Wednesday 7 December 2011

Welsh Government's reprioritised National Transport Plan

Local Government and Communities Minister Carl Sargeant (Lab, Alyn & Deeside) has unveiled the Welsh Government's reprioritisation of the National Transport Plan (NTP).

Transport has been one of the areas where, in my opinion, successive Welsh Governments can point to some success. We've seen multiple road schemes delivered after long waits, rail lines and stations reopened and a clear commitment to sustainable development.

Unfortunately I think that's coming to an end now.

I realise that transport isn't a sexy portfolio for Labour in particular. The fact it's been inexplicably lumped in with Local Government portfolio - instead of the economy - shows what Labour consider transports role to be – not an economic driver or key plank in infrastructure but as something to be "tweaked" at a "community" level to provide "opportunities".

We could've done far worse than have the capable Carl Sargeant in charge of transport, but having looked at the reprioritisation I can't help but feel let down.

Far from prioritising "key" east-west transport links, it appears as though "tweaking" has won the day. The Welsh Government may point to 40% cuts in capital expenditure but just take a look at
the Scottish Government's plans for infrastructure development and weep.

Instead of "
standing up for Wales", we're increasingly going to be looking to Westminster as the key driver of infrastructure development. The ridiculous M4 Newport bypass has already been resurrected from the grave for the umpteenth time along with that other zombie the Severn Barrage. I don't think either will happen to be blunt, despite the headlines.

Before I'm accused of bias, I don't think Ieuan Wyn Jones's original NTP was "blow your socks off" stuff either
and he didn't have to deal with the capital budget cuts. In Plaid's defence, they offered an alternative model to raise money – something the Scottish Government have taken onboard. Labour have offered nothing but excuses.

It isn't all bad news though.

  • The commitment to complete A465 duelling by 2020 remains and construction of the next stage is imminent.
  • New bypasses for Newtown, Caernarfon and Builth Wells are included in the "taken forward" programme.
  • New stations at Brackla (Bridgend) and Energlyn (Caerphilly) by 2015 plus capacity improvements in the south Wales valley rail network and between Wrexham and Chester.
  • A commitment to an hourly service between Aberystwyth and Shrewsbury and redoubling of track between Llanelli and Gowerton.

As you can probably see, the reason I'm so disappointed is that many of these things have already been announced. None of it is "new" and I'm not convinced that these schemes are seriously going to boost the economy. I'm more relieved  that these things have been kept in.

I was expecting Labour to want to stamp their own mark on the NTP and perhaps drop some, if not all, of the "north-south" improvements and deliver at least one of the "big bang" transport schemes Wales is crying out for. Schemes that would really boost the Welsh economy.

In my view these "big bangs" are:

  • Electrification of the Valley Lines (or a clear commitment/timetable with Westminster cooperation)
  • Upgrade the A48 around Newport to near-motorway standard (i.e some grade separation of junctions on the SDR) and remodel the existing M4 through Newport
  • The A4232 Cardiff Periphery Distributor completion (Cardiff Bay-Newport Road)
  • A494 Queensferry-Ewloe Upgrade

....none of them made the list, although there is some vague reference to provide more "resilience" to the M4 at Newport. Perhaps there's still time for Carwyn, Kirsty or Carl to pull a rabbit out of the hat with the £200-odd million coming courtesy of Gorgeous George's Autumn statement but I'm not holding my breath.

I mean why the hell are we going to have to wait until after 2015 for an express bus to Cardiff Airport for heaven's sake!?


  1. And no mention of rail electrification to Swansea.

    Wales has USELESS politicians, regardless of party.

  2. Anon 20:36

    There is no need to stop electrification at Swansea, the whole line between the Severn Tunnel and Pembroke Dock/Fishguard is classed as a trans-European Line linking Ireland to the continent. The Welsh government should be working with the Irish Government and the EU to upgrade the whole length.

  3. At the moment hardly anyone is working with anyone else on electrification beyond Cardiff. The Welsh Government isn't working with Westminster. The politicians (of all parties), both in the Assembly and in the Commons, are not working together either. It's a complete shambles.

    If you live in Swansea and West Wales you should be on the phone to your MP and Assembly Member to get on the job. They'll tell you that they are, but believe me, not much is happening.
    They're using it as a political football to score points off each other.