Business leaders from across Wales heard how fragmented planning and thinking is hampering the development of Wales’ creaking transport system.
The talk was the latest business breakfast held at the Cardiff Business School where Professor Calvin Jones and Professor Anthony Beresford outlined the issues now faced by the Welsh Government and those in charge of transport in Wales.
Sponsored by Bruton Knowles, over 100 people attended, highlighting the importance the people of Wales place on getting the transport infrastructure right.
Following the hour presentation what became clear was that the road, rail and metro proposals were all being viewed in isolation and that an overriding transport strategy for the country was missing.
Professor Jones said it was vital all key decision makers get together and not work in isolation which would be detrimental in the long run.
Mike Rees, head of office at the Cardiff office of Bruton Knowles said:
“It was a fascinating presentation and to hear both Professors speak passionately about the problems Wales face shows how important it is to get it sorted.
“To have so many people attend also highlights the importance businesses and residents of Wales hold the issue if transport.
“What was clearly evident is that presently there is no combined thinking in overall strategy on how to improve the transport system across the whole of Wales and that all elements must be brought together.”
One of the main talking points was whether the M4 relief road around Newport was right for Wales considering the spiralling costs and arguments about the preferred route.
One point highlighted by Professor Jones was that in South East Wales alone, around 25 to 30 per cent of households do not own a car, and questioned whether spending over £1 billion on a new road would be beneficial.
He outlined that any infrastructure has to work for those on lower incomes and that investment in public transport has greater impact for those less well off.
Professor Beresford outlined that by the late 1980s the population had become ‘wedded to their cars’ and that the M4 relief road had been discussed since about 1989.
With the motorway ‘viewed as a hindrance’ the initial start date for constructing a relief road was originally in 1999/2000.
With the bends too tight, gradient too steep, lack of hard shoulders and excessive junctions the section of road around Newport isn’t realistically a motorway but was granted special dispensation to be called a motorway when constructed.
And although it has benefitted from some improvements, he regarded this as just tinkering.
He also said that the opening of the second Severn crossing was viewed as the ‘hidden enemy’ as it emphasised the weakness around Newport which leads to significant ‘delay’ costs for both businesses and general population.
Professor Jones added that whatever the solution, is has to be of good value and be co-beneficial in terms of health and reduced pollution.
He also pointed out that research shows* any project that costs over $1 billion will go over budget so there was need for ‘headroom’ should the M4 relief road get the green light
Options mooted were tolling users of the M4 or imposing congestion charges which would help subsidise public transport for those who don’t own cars.
“It is clear that the issue is much wider than just the M4 around Newport and in order to help social mobility and to let businesses thrive there needs to be a much more cohesive approach.
“Currently, transport systems are just not integrated and is why we have overcrowding on the trains, hold ups around Newport and congestion on the approaches and in our city centres.
“All this has an impact on other important parts of the Welsh economy such as access to Cardiff airport, improvements on linking North and South Wales, getting to and from the ports in West Wales and development work at St Athan.
“What is clear is that Wales cannot afford to lose any more time from a public enquiry and needs to adopt an integrated approach now so that future generations will benefit for years to come.”