Economy and Transport

Welsh Government policy on roads is misguided and damaging

If there is one thing I have realised since being appointed shadow Minister for Transport and Technology, it is that successive Welsh Labour Governments have failed to address the issue of our inadequate road infrastructure, writes Natasha Asghar MS.

Their failure to address rising congestion, as well as the poor standards of public transport, is having major health and environmental impacts on the people of Wales. 

Each time Welsh Conservatives make this point, we are branded as being “anti-environment” which we most certainly are not.

Wales has some of the worst air quality in the UK and congestion on Welsh roads is a major factor in this.

Stop-start traffic not only emits more greenhouse gasses than free flowing traffic, it also causes more particulate pollution to be emitted.

I’m a believer in progress and it is a fact that a constant flow of traffic will reduce the amount of particulate matter released by break and tyre wear, as well as reducing the carbon dioxide that the acceleration of cars produces.

The Welsh Government declared a climate change emergency in 2019.

Their failure to address climate change has resorted to knee jerk reactions such as the freezing of road building projects rather than improving public transport and easing congestion on Welsh Roads.

One of my first acts when appointed to my role was to call for the Welsh Government to introduce an All-Wales travel card.

I am delighted that my call has received such a positive response from the First Minister because establishing a Wales travel pass for use on local or sub-regional networks, across all operators will ensure more seamless journeys for residents, tourists, commuters and student all across Wales and ultimately encourage tourism, assisting visitors to travel easily and conveniently from North to South and East to West Wales.

This is the sort of project that could encourage people to leave their cars at home at use public transport instead. 

But, simply forcing people out of cars without providing adequate public transport as an alternative is unworkable and reckless.

It does not mean the Welsh Government can escape its obligations to deliver an efficient and effective road network.

We need a programme of improvements to our road network and not a moratorium. 

Consideration needs to be given to relieving pressure on the M4 which has been the bane of many people’s lives, including mine as a resident of Newport.

I believe solutions to congestion on the M4 can be found such as  by building a motorway junction on the M48 where the Severn toll booths used to be.

Having spoken to the leader of Monmouthshire County Council it is certainly feasible from a planning angle and such a link would ease pressure on junctions 23 and 24, providing direct access to Severn Tunnel Junction.

I asked the Welsh Government if they will allow discussions to explore the feasibility of a Chepstow Bypass to go ahead since it will require agreement between a number of stakeholders.

They replied that, in their view, building bypasses  diverts funding away from more sustainable forms of transport and that they didn’t believe endless bypasses and motorway studies would help with the problem of congestion.

Many people have contacted me about the A465 Heads of the Valleys Road to ask why after the Welsh Government spent millions of pounds on improvements to make the road safer have they imposed a speed limit of 50 mph.

Concerns have already been expressed that infrastructure unable to deal with rising visit numbers could damage our reputation as a tourist destination with reports of traffic jams and parking problems.

Frankly, I feel like the Welsh Government prefers to explore road taxes for hard working people in order to disincentivise the use of private vehicles. 

Minister’s say they have no plans “currently” to introduce congestion charges on the M4.

However, there are reports on social media that residents are being surveyed about the possibility of introducing charges, if not on the M4 then certainly on other roads in Wales.

We all know people’s incomes in Wales are less than in England so why punish motorists with a congestion charge when public transport is so inadequate?

The importance of a good road infrastructure to the Welsh economy cannot be overstated.

It is essential for the free movement of food and other goods around the country.

I am sure you will have noticed the empty shelves in our supermarkets as they try to meet demand while facing supply problems.

That is why I have called on the Welsh Government to take urgent action to address the shortage of HGV drivers in Wales.

The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns across the UK resulted in the loss of months of driver training and the cancellation of 28,000 HGV driver tests.

This has undermined efforts to grow the pool of 300,000 qualified lorry drivers in the UK that is needed urgently, as a third of those drivers are over 55 and heading for retirement.

Sensible short and long term solutions needed to tackle the driver shortage working in a sustainable way to recruit and train homegrown workforce so that the UK reliance on foreign labour lessens over time.

The Road Haulage Association has proposed an SME focussed HGV Driver Training Scheme which would be a shorter, tighter scheme than the main apprenticeship schemes and would deliver skilled, qualified drivers more quickly.

Natasha Asghar is the Member of the Senedd for South Wales East and the Shadow Minister for Transport.

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