The Welsh Government has today scrapped all major road schemes, placing the climate and ecological emergency at the heart of decision making on future infrastructure spending. The decision was unveiled on February 14 by the deputy minister for economy and transport, Lee Waters.
Last year Waters said he would “free up road space” to make public transit “more attractive.” Doing this, he added, would create a “system that doesn’t just cater for those with cars.”
Speaking to the Welsh parliament today Waters said:
“Let me be very clear at the outset, we will still invest in roads. In fact, we are building new roads as I speak—but we are raising the bar for where new roads are the right response to transport problems. We are also investing in real alternatives, including investment in rail, bus, walking and cycling projects.”
He added: “Our capital budget will be 8% lower next year in real terms as a result of the UK Government’s failure to invest in infrastructure. With fewer resources it becomes even more important to prioritise and the Roads Review helps us to do that."
Fifty-five road projects were paused in September last year to be reviewed by the Welsh Roads Review Panel led by transport expert Dr. Lynn Sloman, author of the 2006 book Car Sick: Solutions for Our Car-Addicted Culture.
Other members of the independent panel included professors Glenn Lyons of the University of the West of England and John Parkin, Deputy Director of the Centre for Transport and Society at the University of the West of England.
Lyons called the scaling back of the road plans for climate reasons was a “world leading” decision.
Only fifteen of 55 schemes will go ahead in the original form.
The Welsh Government response to the review said that all road schemes had to “support modal shift and reduce carbon emissions.” (Modal shift is switching between modes of transport, such as switching from driving to taking the bus.)
This, said the 327-page review, is “about ensuring that future roads investment does not simply increase the demand for private car travel. Instead, we need to deliver schemes that contribute meaningfully to modal shift.”
Plans for a third Menai bridge will now not go ahead and neither will the Red Route in Flintshire that threatened ancient woodlands and wildflower meadows.
The review stressed that the Welsh Government would “still invest in roads” because “we will still need to provide connections to support sustainable social and economic development, but this must be consistent with Welsh Government policy to prioritise public transport and active travel as well as support decarbonisation, modal shift and improve safety.”
Reducing and re-prioritising our investment on new road schemes and increasing our investment in sustainable modes will assist modal shift, but it will also deliver wider benefits. These include less air pollution, more successful town and neighbourhood centres and a transport system that is accessible and fair for all. We recognise that this is a big and difficult change, that it won’t happen overnight, and it requires us to work collaboratively, across government and beyond.
The transport strategy for Wales—Llwybr Newydd, New Path—sets out to reshape transport in Wales, introducing a transport hierarchy that will put people ahead of cars.
Welsh ministers said they wanted to reduce Wales’s carbon footprint to “protect people and wildlife from the climate emergency” and that “to do this, we need to reduce the number of journeys taken by private cars and increase the number of people walking, cycling and using public transport.”
Andrew RT Davies, the leader of the Conservatives in the Welsh parliament said in September 2022 that the “Labour Government in Cardiff Bay has a dogmatic hatred of private cars. They make it their business to make private car use as unpleasant and costly as they can.”
Two months later, speaking in the Welsh parliament, Waters stressed that dependency on cars is deep-seated and has to be reversed: “We have created a transport system that has prioritized car use. It has allowed individual freedoms and flexibilities that we all value, but it has also locked in deep inequalities and environmental harms.”
Speaking in the Welsh parliament today, Waters said the motorists-first road-building approach of the last 70 years was not working.
“We will not get to net zero unless we stop doing the same thing over and over,” he said.
“None of this is easy but neither is the alternative.”
Sloman, chair of the roads review panel, lives for much of the year in Wales and is the founder and director of Transport for Quality of Life, an environmental and sustainable transport consultancy.
Speaking at a climate event in Birmingham, England, two years ago, Sloman said: “If there are lots of local facilities, people will walk and cycle to them rather than driving, and so will use cars less. And developments that have really good public transport services nearby will tend to have lower levels of car use.”
In her 2006 book, Sloman wrote that “even the better engineers and urban designers need help to tackle the problem of car dependence. The problem is not just one of road design; it is also a problem of our own thoughtlessness. Driving has become the normal, habitual, expected means of transport, and other options are not even considered.”
Chris Todd, director of advocacy group Transport Action Network, welcomed the scrapping of major roads schemes:
“This is a landmark announcement by the Welsh Government which is leading the way internationally. For the first time we have the climate and ecological emergency at the heart of decision making. At a time of a climate and ecological emergency we need our political leaders to stand up and be counted.”