Welsh Government is condemning rural communities to misery by ditching road projects
Mabon ap Gwynfor, Plaid Cymru MS for Dwyfor Meirionnydd
The Welsh Government has won plaudits for ditching road projects.
But all it is doing is condemning rural communities to misery while big roads to serve dirty industries will keep getting built.
It was reported across the globe that Wales was leading the world by stopping road building. Of course, this was not quite the case, they said they were putting to a halt to new road projects.
The spark for the wave of green back slapping was the cancelation of a by-pass of the small Snowdonia village of Llanbedr.
All the people of Llanbedr wanted was to have a short one mile stretch of road to provide some relief from the throngs of tourist traffic that chokes the village for much of the year.
So, the Welsh Government made the announcement, the adulation rolled in from around the world and Ministers got to go to COP 26 in Glasgow and accept all the praise.
But I’m sure those in the chorus singing the praises of the Welsh Government would be outraged to realise that the wool had been pulled over their eyes.
Because, while Llanbedr has been denied a much-needed by-pass to ease congestion, the Welsh Government will continue with other large road building projects.
Only in May they allowed the dualling of 11miles on the Heads of the Valleys, the A465, in order to allow hundreds of thousands of vehicles to travel up to 70mph and join the English Midlands motorway network.
Labour’s own Rhondda Cynon Taf Council have passed the dualling of the A4119 too.
In fact, the small print of the Government’s moratorium states:
“Access roads with the primary purpose of linking a site or premises for heavy industry to the public highway, or within the boundary of a heavy industry development site, will be excluded from the review. Access roads with the primary purpose of serving residential, retail and light office / light industrial developments should be paused at the next decision gateway to allow them to be considered by the review panel.”
Large dirty roads
Let’s unpack that. Basically, the building of large dirty roads to service large dirty businesses are exempt but building smaller roads in largely rural areas are blocked.
I’m sure that this isn’t what international environmentalists thought of when they cheered on the Welsh Government for their road building policy.
I raised this point with the First Minister this week and asked him to explain the rational and science behind this seemingly hypocritical decision the decision. Unfortunately, he had no answer.
Furthermore, one of the central reasons given for halting the development was because the design speed of the new by-pass was 60mph. The author naturally felt that this was environmentally damaging. However, in their savage reply to the report the Local Authority makes clear that they offered to change the plan to 40mph, which would make a huge difference to the level of carbon emissions. The authority says that by not mentioning this in the report, it is akin to withholding evidence. That’s some accusation.
Llanbedr suffers regular congestion problems, with tailbacks up to a mile long during the tourist season, which also impacts on every community along the stunning Meirionnydd coast.
The pretty village regularly sees logjams on it’s one main road, and as a result residents who suffer respiratory illnesses and other health complications suffer.
Parents are forced to use cars to take their children less than half a mile to school because of the dangers of crossing the bridge and walking along the side of the road.
One heart patient told me how he suffered a heart incident, and the ambulance had to contact the air ambulance because there was no way that the road ambulance could navigate the traffic and get him to Ysbyty Gwynedd (the nearest district general hospital, over 40 miles away) in time to save his life. And suppliers to local businesses are threatening to stop supplies because of the time their lorry drivers are wasting queueing on the road.
Lack of public transport
Numerous young people are compelled to buy private vehicles because of a lack of public transport. And elderly people told us that they were paying large amounts of their pensions to taxi firms in order to visit the GP or get to and from the shops in time.
It was why these residents were infuriated by the government’s decision to stop the development of the by-pass, which would have improved their quality of life immeasurably.
Like so many other rural communities, Llanbedr isn’t blessed with a host of public services.
While the government claim they will fund alternatives to the by-pass the offer is for one-off spending, however it would require a massively improved services and regular on-going costs to ensure that residents could go to the shops or places of work.
It is also a relatively poor community, with a median household income of a little over £25k – amongst the lowest in the UK.
In fact, at the same time as the Government announced that they were going to scrap the Llanbedr scheme, their own Future Generations Commissioner published a report arguing that poorer, remote communities who do not have access to public transport or effective active travel could be left behind as Governments take urgent action to tackle climate change. This is exactly what is happening in Llanbedr.
Larger urban areas where wealth is centralised have benefited from huge infrastructure investment, with residents being able to commute freely via public transport and enjoy a wealth of services within minutes.
Yet, the miniscule investment in infrastructure required to allow the movement of people and wealth is now being denied to more impoverished rural areas, dressed up as environmental progress while dirtier, more damaging projects are given the go ahead elsewhere.
This scheme needs to be reinstated, and the government, if they are serious about tackling climate change and not simply chasing headlines, should concentrate on taking action in areas where it will make a genuine difference.
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