Welsh Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence from TAITH

1. TAITH is the Transport Consortium for North Wales. It is a formally constituted Joint Committee of the six North Wales County Councils. Its remit is to develop an integrated transport strategy for North Wales, delivering the aims and objectives of the Wales Transport Strategy in the region. The Regional Transport Plan was completed in 2009, and covers our Strategic Interventions to 2015.

2. We welcome the opportunity to submit information for consideration by the Select Committee on Cross Border Transport. The economies of North Wales and North West England are closely inter-twined and effective coordination of cross border routes and transport services is crucial. Although effective local liaison groups, especially the Mersey Dee Alliance exist, there is scope for better engagement at Government level, especially in developing strategic transport projects.

3. Transport Provision in North Wales is heavily impacted by the Wales National Transport Plan, which has recently been reprioritised. The potential consequences of this plan are significant for North Wales and a number of key projects are included in the revised NTP for delivery. These are set out below for completeness.

North-south fast train service—prioritised (NTP 56).

Service provision until May 2012 has been confirmed.

Future options currently being considered.

Enhancing the capacity of the section of rail between Shrewsbury and Chester, via Wrexham—prioritised (NTP 57).

Address the transport issues in Wrexham, Chester Deeside triangle—prioritised (NTP 95).

Report on the options due later this year (NEWABTS and A494 study).

Increasing the capacity of the A55 across the Menai—prioritised (NTP 93).

Address the issues on the A55 at Junctions 15 and 16— prioritised (NTP 94).

Consultants appointed to progress details.

Congestion reducing measures on Britannia Bridge.

A number of these projects impact directly on cross border linkages.

4. The importance of the cross border links from North Wales to the North West and Midlands of England and vice versa cannot be underestimated. These cross border routes are essential not only for long distance access to markets, but also to support the industrial and commercial economies in both England and Wales. This includes significant commuting to work and access for leisure and tourism purposes. There are also significant linkages between Ireland through the Port of Holyhead and the UK and European markets.

5. There are significant congestion issues on parts of these key routes, especially the road network, and whilst some work on resolving the issues and considering opportunities is underway, much remains to be done. A number of the key issues are set out below,

6. A55/A483 Junction—This junction is a significant congestion bottleneck that impacts on the network in England and Wales. Although the key junction is the responsibility of the Highways Agency, there are major problems in Wales as a result of the lack of capacity. A range of potential interventions is possible and need investigation. We should encourage the Highways Agency and Welsh Government to work with the two relevant Local Authorities to identify measures for improving the current situation.

7. A494 Aston Hill—This is part of the second main route linking North Wales with the North West of England and the main Motorway network. There have been significant improvements in recent year, but these stop at the River Dee Crossing. The Welsh Government is considering options for the improvement of the route from the River Dee to the junction with A55 at Ewloe, and these options are expected soon. There is significant congestion at peak times on the route, which serves long distance transport as well as being a key local link to the major industrial areas in the locality. There are further significant developments under consideration in the area, and Deeside has recently been awarded Enterprise Zone status.

8. A49—Although this route is in England, it forms part of a key route from North to South Wales. A major barrier is the lack of a relief road for Hereford. A solution to the issue and a better means of cross border input into key links such as this would be helpful.

9. Port of Holyhead—is a key gateway to Ireland and one of the main points of access between Irish companies and their main markets in Europe and the UK. There are significant investment proposals at the Port and its surroundings, which will have impacts on traffic flows across North Wales and beyond. The links with Ireland and between Ireland and Europe are significant, and the role of Holyhead as a key entry and exit port should not be under estimated by the Committee.

10. Wylfa Horizon Project—The significant development proposal to develop a new power station adjacent to the current Wylfa plant will, if approved, have significant transport implications for North Wales. Construction activity will be considerable and will take place over a number of years. There will also be significant accessibility improvements funded by the Company on the island, and TAITH and the North Wales Local Authorities will have to respond to the substantial opportunities this investment will bring.

11. The job creation during construction will be significant, access to the site, accommodation and transport routes will be impacted as a result of the project.

12. Although located well within Wales, the pinch point of the Menai crossing is a critical point in the link between the port of Holyhead and the UK and Europe. As part of the key TEN-T route, the capacity constraint at the Menai is an issue that needs a solution.

13. Enterprise Zones—In September 2011 the Welsh Government Minister for Business Enterprise Technology and Science (BETS) announced the sites for five new Enterprise Zones across Wales. Two of these are located within the TAITH area, an area at Deeside focussed on advanced manufacturing and the whole of Anglesey focussed on key sites for the energy sector. Subsequent to the original announcement, a further site around Trawsfynydd in Gwynedd has been announced. This site sits within the TraCC (Mid Wales Transport Consortium) area, but may have impacts into the TAITH area. Of significance is the potential for the development of the rail link to the area for freight and additional passenger services.

14. From a transportation perspective, the designation of these sites is highly significant. It is evident that the sites are intended to benefit the whole of North Wales, creating significant employment opportunities for the whole area. It is also clear that in order for the areas to achieve this goal, accessibility to them is crucial. This includes resolving local problems that prevent access to the sites in the Enterprise Zones as well providing alternatives other than use of cars for the longer distance journeys. Because the potential job numbers are significant, improvements to longer distance accessibility will be essential if the employment created at the sites is to be sustained.

15. The designation of Enterprise Zones in England, especially at Wirral Waters and at Warrington will also be a contributor to additional cross border traffic. Through the Mersey Dee Alliance, we are working across the border to ensure a joint approach to the issues and opportunities these designated sites will provide.

Cross Border Rail Connections

16. There are a number of strategic investment projects and franchise renewals that impact on North Wales and Cheshire. There are both potential threats and opportunities from these. More detail is provided below.

West Coast Main Line Franchise

17. The through rail service between Holyhead and Euston is of immense importance to the economy of North Wales. Tourism is our biggest industry and a significant proportion of visitors come from the south east of England. The service is also a lifeline to the business community and it attracts businesses to locate here. Without it, attending meetings in London would not be possible within a day as there is no air service and the car journey takes five to seven hours each way.

18. It is important to note that the region is heavily dependent on this route, and the London centric nature of the core train service requirement is an area of concern. The new franchise should reflect that the route provides essential regional and local links to and from North Wales to all parts of the UK. Crewe is a major hub for connecting services to and from North Wales, and it is important this is reflected in the service levels to this hub. The stopping pattern of services at Crewe is of significant importance, as it is the main access point to UK rail services from North Wales.

19. The discussions underway regarding the renewal of the franchise are crucial. We have welcomed the initial specification proposed for the new franchise that maintains the current service level of through trains between Holyhead/Bangor and Euston. We are however concerned about the “flexibility” that is to be given to the successful bidder to look for alternative uses for the rolling stock and different calling patterns. The current service level and journey times of through trains between Euston and North Wales/Chester should be specified as a minimum that can be provided throughout the duration of the franchise to prevent the TOC from redeploying the rolling stock to wealthier parts of the UK where they might earn more revenue due to the higher fares that people in such areas can afford to pay.

HS2

20. TAITH has previously expressed support for the HS2 project, as it should provide extra capacity and better connectivity which are both essential for business productivity and growth in North Wales. The proposed “Y shaped network”, in combination with the initial London to Birmingham route offers significant opportunities to connect cities and take pressure off the existing lines—in fact without investment in high speed rail the existing networks are forecast to be full by 2024.

21. We are however concerned that the competitiveness of the North Wales, Cheshire and Merseyside areas should not be disadvantaged through HS2. Therefore as a minimum there should be effective and appropriately located interchanges for the area into direct HS2 services from the existing West Coast Main Line and other services, and that the chosen HS2 route into Manchester supports this. It is worth noting that the Northern Hub scheme and train service package will be required for effective HS2 delivery. We expect to see freed up capacity on the WCML continuing to support this area’s transport network.

22. A significant issue is that the only part of the WCML that is not electrified is the Crewe to Holyhead section, which is a concern for this area, and one that we would like to see acknowledged within future strategic transport investment planning. With the development of HS2, the lack of electrification on the route will not allow the proposed classic compatible train services to access North Wales and Chester.

23. Given the importance of the West Coast Mainline to Cheshire, Merseyside and North Wales, we are concerned at the extent of disruption to existing services at Euston during the new construction phase of HS2, and would like this to be minimised at all costs.

Manchester Hub

24. The proposals to improve infrastructure and electrify lines in the Manchester/Northern Hub has potential impacts on Cross Border rail services. There are proposals to increase the numbers and frequency of rail services between Chester and Manchester as part of the project. There are opportunities to increase the speed of the Llandudno Manchester services, which currently act of the local stopping service on this route. We would encourage the acceleration of the N Wales trains, and would also seek to improve direct rail services from the region to Manchester Airport. It is important that these opportunities are considered as part of the Wales and Borders and Northern Rail franchise renewals.

Halton Curve

25. The curve provides a link between the Chester—Manchester line at Frodsham with the West Coast Main Line to Liverpool at Runcorn. It is currently totally under utilised. The TAITH Rail Strategy proposes options for direct services between the North Wales Coast and Liverpool Lime Street. There are also options for additional services between Wrexham and Lime Street. These services would provide direct rail links to Liverpool South Parkway and John Lennon Airport, a growing point of embarkation for North Wales travellers. We would encourage support for improvements to the Halton Curve and for new services to be implemented along the line.

Wrexham—Saltney Junction

26. The Welsh Assembly Government has recently announced that construction works are to commence as early as 2012 on improving the line capacity between Saltney Junction (Chester) and Wrexham. This will present new opportunities to maximise the full potential of the Chester-Wrexham-Shrewsbury route which have not been possible to date. The increase in demand and the investment being made in the infrastructure in Wrexham have and will present new opportunities for rail travel. We are in the process of commissioning work to maximise the potential of the Chester—Wrexham—Shrewsbury route and specifically the growing demands for rail travel to and from Wrexham. This will consider the potential for additional new stations and also an enhanced service frequency of services on the line. The additional capacity provided by the work will allow the potential development of:

Additional trains and capacity between Chester and Wrexham for commuters.

Additional services from Wrexham to London Euston.

Additional direct services from Wrexham to Liverpool and Manchester.

Additional freight paths for services to reduce lorry movements.

Borderlands Line

27. It has long been an aspiration in the region to secure a half hourly service on this important but under valued cross border line. After some delay, there is renewed interest in securing improvements to the service along this railway line. Because it crosses the border, there is a concern that the development of the line has been considered peripheral in both Wales and the Merseyside area in the past. Merseyrail are considering options for service enhancements and have had recent discussions with the WG. There is a need to encourage the parties to develop a clear strategy for the line for the medium and long term. The route offers opportunities to develop better links between Liverpool and North East Wales, and the route also provides a link between two recently designated Enterprise Zones at Deeside and Wirral Waters. The access to employment sites along the route that could be provided if an additional service was created is considerable.

Freight Services

28. Throughout Wales, around 100 million tonnes of freight is lifted each year, representing 13 billion tonne kilometres of goods moved and around 5% of all freight transported in the UK. It contributes around £2.5 billion to the Welsh economy. The quantity of freight has not increased for more than 30 years, yet tonne kilometres have doubled, meaning goods are moving longer distances to reach their destination. There is significant cross border movement by lorry, which has an impact on road congestion at key points in the network.

29. The North Wales Rail Study concluded that a number of rail freight projects should be taken forward for further consideration. As a result a further report was commissioned and in terms of freight, three options have been taken forward for further investigation.

F1/F2 Land-bridge Service to Ireland and Accompanying Rail Terminal at Holyhead.

F5: Development of a Rail Freight Consolidation Centre at Shotton, Deeside.

F12: Movement of Domestic Waste by Rail.

Each of these options involves the replacement of existing freight flows by road, and moving the flow to rail. If progressed, the additional rail freight traffic would reduce peak level congestion through the removal of lorry movements from the road network. The projects would also deliver significant sustainability improvements through carbon reduction.

Integrated Transport and Cross Border Bus Services

30. In the North East Wales area, close to the Border, there is considerable local service demand for public transport and accessibility. Most bus services in the area are commercial, and this has created gaps in the provision. A significant issue is the relatively poor linkages between communities and employment sites. There is a need for increased local dialogue on cross border routes and specific provision in support of access to the major employment sites in Wales and West Cheshire.

31. TAITH and the Welsh Government have commissioned a joint study into transport issues in the Chester—Deeside—Wrexham triangle. The study, the North East Wales Area Based Transport Strategy (NEWABTS) is nearing completion. The strategy is based on identifying integrated transport solutions to resolve some of the congestion issues on the trunk road network in North East Wales and West Cheshire. Included in the work is an emphasis on linking areas of deprivation and unemployment to areas where job opportunities exist, through a variety of sustainable transport access alternatives.

32. The strategy includes a range of public transport interventions including, improvements to bus stops along the main Shotton corridor and the creation of a dedicated bus route and associated infrastructure is suggested alongside improvements to traffic signals along the route to ease congestion at peak times. Work will also be done with passenger transport operators to understand how the current route network can be used to support accessibility to employment.

33. There are also a number of Walking and Cycling proposals identified. These provide safe and sustainable links from communities to major employment areas. Routes linking the communities of Shotton, Connah’s Quay and Queensferry, to Deeside Industrial Park, employment sites at Sandycroft and the Airbus site at Broughton are included. Additional links from Saltney and Penyffordd to Airbus are also suggested. There is also a proposal to link Deeside Industrial Park to the cycle network on the Wirral, giving access to the Wirral Way included in the programme. Because of the geography of the area, and the sometimes lengthy access routes by car to some of the sites in the Deeside area, walking and cycling can provide a viable alternative to car based access to some of the areas key employment sites.

34. It is positive to note that the emerging recommendations of the report have been recognised in the NTP priorities recently announced by the Welsh Government. Support for these interventions linked to the delivery of an effective personal travel planning service is a key component to helping resolve cross border congestion.

35. DfT Local Sustainable Transport Fund—The cross border importance of the employment in this area has been recognised and Cheshire West and Chester Council has recently submitted a bid to the DfT for the Local Sustainable Transport Fund which is complementary to some elements of NEWABTS recommendations. The Council’s package area is focussed in key travel to work corridors in the west of the Borough where there is both existing and future job opportunities and where they consider that modest interventions can encourage a more sustainable approach to how people reach work and training opportunities. These are:

The Chester—Ellesmere Port—Wirral—Merseyside corridor.

Links between Chester and Ellesmere Port and the Deeside Enterprise Zone in North East Wales.

36. Merseytravel has also submitted a bid to the fund, and the joint work between the organisations through our membership of the Mersey Dee Alliance needs to be encouraged.

April 2012

Prepared 5th March 2013