Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the Civic Trust for Wales (IT 99)

  These comments should be considered alongside the submission of the Civic Trust, which we endorse. We take here the opportunity to reflect on the implications of the Transport White Paper as they are applied to Wales through the Welsh Office Transport Policy Statement, Transporting Wales into the Future and the associated Statement of the Welsh Roads Programme.

  1. The Civic Trust for Wales supports the intentions of the White Paper and therefore equally welcomes Peter Hain's Welsh Transport Policy Statement, Transporting Wales into the Future. However, we are concerned about how far the government intends to translate its proposals into action. Initial lack of clarity on this point has been succeeded by rumours that the government does not plan early legislation on key proposals with regard to the Strategic Rail Authority, congestion charging and workplace parking. We support the Civic Trust's belief that it is essential that such legislation be put in place if the government is to translate fine words into genuine and progressive environmental action.

THE TRANSPORT POLICY STATEMENT

  2. Taken together with John Prescott's White Paper we consider that the Transport Policy Statement has the potential to represent a defining break with the past and to offer a framework for a system of transport and planning that can help develop the Welsh economy in a sustainable way.

  3. However, the Welsh document remains aspirational as much as practical. It recognises that we cannot go on as we are, and that the quality of life in Wales depends on the development of a more sustainable transport policy. Its approach recognises the rurality of much of Wales and the lack of a developed public transport infrastructure. The problem is that the making policy effective depends on early legislation; on the responses of the local authorities and transport operators; and on the availability of additional sources of funding to subsidise buses and trains, not just in rural Wales but in our cities and large towns. Many of the proposals which the statement contains require the will to act at the local level. It is at the local level that the work will have to be done with the transport operators to improve services and information to the travelling public, and at the local level that transport plans will have to be devised to encourage public transport use and persuade people to leave the car at home. Problems are likely to arise from the fragmentation of Welsh local government, with its patchwork of small unitary councils, and the resultant difficulty that could be experienced in co-ordinating and planning transport strategies across local government boundaries. And it is unlikely that local authorities will be able to implement effective local transport strategies unless they have access to substantial new money to support public transport services and to make walking and cycling more attractive.

  4. The Trust is disappointed that the statement views charging for road use in towns and cities as likely to be exceptional. It is this initiative, together with workplace parking charges, that was the most innovative aspect of Prescott's White Paper. The adoption of charging is the only obvious way in which the substantial new money for public transport and related infrastructure is likely to be found. If this approach is likely to be the exception rather than the rule it is not likely that there will be any significant improvement in public transport use in Cardiff, Newport or Swansea. The statement is so cautious on this issue that it will be a brave local authority that has the courage to go down this path and court a hostile reaction from car users or from a lobby that would regard such charging as placing one city at a competitive disadvantage to another.

A KEY ROLE FOR THE WELSH ASSEMBLY

  5. In the light of this situation the Trust argues that there is a key role to be played by the Assembly in making the government's strategy work. The Assembly could be effective in the co-ordination of transport planning across local government boundaries. We would also like the Assembly to prioritise a larger subsidy to rural bus services and community transport schemes. It will need to fund as much as encourage innovative ways of moving freight. And we believe that Assembly will have to take a positive approach to charging car users to get into city centres. Rather than resign congestion charging to local initiative, the Assembly would be in a position to propose strategic partnerships with appropriate authorities that would make charging the rule not the exception, and enable revenue to be hypothecated both to local authority strategies and cross-boundary initiatives. We would like the Assembly, as it tries to control development that generates road use, to move forward also on a proposal that the government shirked—charging for parking space at out of town retail developments. This would be a valuable source of revenue that could be hypothecated to improvements to town centres and public transport. Were revenue from such sources available and shared between the Assembly and the local authorities there would be a much better chance of improving public transport across the whole of Wales, as well as raising the quality of life in our cities and large towns.

THE WELSH ROADS PROGRAMME

  6. The Trust has also broadly welcomed the Welsh Office statement on the Welsh Roads Programme—for which there has been no parallel English document. We believe that this sits alongside the Transport Statement as marking a fresh approach to an integrated transport system and the development of a sustainable growth strategy. It recognises the economic need to improve movement in parts of Wales which are depressed, but also takes on board the importance of making sure that when roads are built the need for them has been appraised in a way that takes environmental as well as economic factors into account, and always considers whether public transport solutions may be more relevant than increasing road capacity.

  7. The Trust welcomes therefore the decision to implement the Fishguard Western Bypass and the A465 improvements (subject to the pending inquiry decision) at the same time as planned improvements to the A5 are buried. In its submission to the Welsh Office the Trust called for a re-think of plans for the A470 corridor between Pontypridd and Cardiff and it is pleased that this has been taken on board by the Welsh Office. We continue to look to the improvement of rail systems in the Valleys to reduce car commuting. We believe, too, that an all-Wales approach to the planning and development of rail use is needed, and that the Assembly could play a vital role in bringing this about.

  8. The biggest decision of all will be whether or not to proceed with the M4 relief proposals around Newport. The Assembly should be the vehicle for this decision as it should be the forum that decides what priority will be given to other schemes which government has said must be re-appraised. In the mean time we would like an early decision on the A40 St Clears-Haverfordwest corridor.

  9. We believe that unless convincing public transport solutions can be found to resolve congestion on the M4 corridor between the Severn Bridges and Cardiff, politicians in Wales will have to grasp the nettle and build the M4 relief road, otherwise growth in the regional economy will be compromised and the quality of life in and around Newport itself will deteriorate markedly. This is a decision that is best taken by a democratically elected body on the basis of a full appraisal of all the issues and alternatives.

  10. The other proposals in the Roads Programme are a curate's egg. Our comments are necessarily selective but we would stress that there remains no clear way forward to improving north-south links, although the need to do something is acknowledged. We cannot see that this will easily be met by enabling Assembly members to day-trip by plane from North Wales. Either we need a better, faster, cheaper and more frequent rail link, or something will have to be done about the A470. The Trust is saddened also by yet further delay to the Llandeilo by-pass and wishes to relate this to the strong case made in paragraph 2.5.2 of the Civic Trust submission that there are significant economic and environmental gains to be made from such projects. The Llandeilo scheme has been on-off, stop-start for 25 years yet it is one of the most urgently needed, best supported, by-pass schemes in Wales. Not only is it essential to get the heavy traffic out of Llandeilo's historic but narrow streets and off its ancient bridge for the environmental benefit of the town, but the bypass offers the best chance of integrating road, rail and bus services in the region, defining a truly integrated transport policy at the local level. It is a perfect illustration of the need to ensure that the aspirations of government policy are made a reality for living communities.

Matthew Griffiths

Civic Trust for Wales

23 September 1998


 
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