Environmental concerns have prompted the Welsh government to scrap all of its major road-building projects. While eco campaigners have praised the brave move, construction industry bosses have warned it may leave jobs at risk as only 15 of 59 projects are to go ahead as planned in the huge announcement.
The move is part of the Welsh government’s National Transport Plan and follows a year-long review, as ministers move to introduce new environmentally-friendly criteria new roads must meet.
These include insisting that future roads must not increase carbon emissions or the number of cars on the road, they must not lead to higher speeds and higher emissions, and must not negatively impact the environment. They must also provide connections to jobs and areas of economic activity in a way that maximises the use of public transport, walking and cycling.
Responding to the decision, the Director of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association, Ed Evans, said there was a risk to the safeguarding of jobs without further clarity from the government.
He said: “It’s a huge announcement, there are no two ways about it. What we’ve just been through has created uncertainty but we can start to get clarity on investments in infrastructure, whether that’s maintaining what we’ve got or new investment in energy for instance, then that will go a long way to ensure that jobs, business and communities are safeguarded.”
But Deputy Minister for Climate Change Lee Waters told the Senedd the approach of the last 70 years was not working and said the devolved government had to “be prepared to follow through” on meeting their commitment to hitting net zero by 2050.
He said: “We will not get to net zero unless we stop doing the same thing over and over. None of this is easy but neither is the alternative.”
Mr Waters added new roads would be built in future but said the government was “raising the bar” to ensure any new road was “the right response to transport problems”.
The review started in 2021 when 59 road projects were placed on hold for an expert panel to review them. Following the review, only 15 of these will go ahead – all of which are smaller-scale projects.
Some of the more notable scrapped projects include the controversial Red Route in Flintshire, which will be replaced by improvements to the A494 at Aston Hill. Meanwhile, plans for a third Menai crossing between Anglesey and the mainland have been cancelled.
Instead, a review will take place into how to improve congestion and the resilience of the current bridges – as well as getting people to use other ways to travel.
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The largest of the projects to still be going ahead is the A4042 corridor from Pontypool to the M4 through Torfaen, as well as improvements to the A487 between Fishguard and Cardigan, and the A4076 at Haverfordwest.
Environmental campaigners described the announcement as “world-leading”, with Haf Elgar, from Friends of the Earth Cymru, saying: “We were seeing this review as a test of the Welsh government. Were they going to be brave enough to walk the walk, not just to say ‘we’ve got a climate emergency’ but to actually take those difficult decisions and to make real changes to our future in Wales?
Christine Boston, from active travel charity Sustrans, added: “If we’re serious about meeting the climate crisis challenge, we need to become a society that supports multi-modal transport. If we want people to walk, wheel, or cycle alongside using public transport, we need continued investment in improving infrastructure that supports that.”
Welsh Tory leader Andrew RT Davies slammed the decision, claiming Labour ministers were cutting down on road projects “because they’ll ‘induce demand’, adding: “Because encouraging more visitors to Wales and money into our economy is obviously a bad thing.”
But Liberal Democrat leader, Jane Dodds, welcomed the announcement, commenting: “For too long, we’ve spent millions on new roads with no real improvements in road safety or congestion.”