Another step in the right direction for future generations
We are very pleased to see the Welsh Government publish this important report today accepting the recommendations of the Roads Review Panel which we supported. We thank them and Dr Lyn Sloman for their evident commitment to transforming the way we will move around Wales.
Commitments for future generations
Our letter to the First Minister in October 2022 called on decision makers for transport in Welsh Government to place the climate emergency, our net zero carbon targets and the well-being of Wales front and centre of their recommendations. We welcome that the Welsh Government’s commitments announced today reflect the points we raised.
We set out three priorities that should underpin decisions for all road schemes, both now and in the future:
- The need to tackle climate change and meet the net zero targets: 17% of Welsh emissions are from transport with half of those coming from cars. The stark reality is that unless we significantly reduce our transport emissions, we are not going to reach our net zero targets,
- The need to improve well-being and address the cost of living: We must reduce costs for mobility and move away from expensive car ownership; we need to break down the barriers that prevent people from finding decent work and getting to work every day; to reach their place of study, caring or play; or to keep in touch with members of their family and wider support network,
- The need to foster economic resilience and strengthen cohesive communities: road schemes have been shown to have little to no effect on local economies and we must stop cutting off communities from each other and their local high streets.
We are pleased to see that today’s commitment by Welsh Government also follows the advice of the Roads Review Panel which resonates strongly with these priorities and is reflected in the new ‘tests’ to be imposed on new road schemes. We support the Panel’s conclusion that any new schemes, should not increase road capacity, vehicle speed or emissions or adversely affect ecologically valuable sites.
We are similarly reassured that for the schemes going ahead, the new conditions will be applied and that any alternative approaches which had previously been suggested during their Stage 1 WelTAG process will be revisited.
It means that new schemes should only proceed on the basis that they improve safety or adapt to climate change, and are developed in a way that maximises the opportunity for modal shift to sustainable modes of transport.
Transport fit for the well-being of Wales
Whilst mobility is an important part of people’s lives, we must remember that 20% of people do not have access to a car in Wales. Our current transport system is based on outdated approaches to transport and is not fit for future generations.
It’s right to move away from investing in new roads to investing in active travel and public transport. Not only will this help reduce our carbon emissions but will also bring benefits for people’s health and create a more equal Wales by prioritising investment for people who need it most, often those who can’t afford to buy cars. Truly sustainable transport solutions have to meet the needs of a much more diverse range of people.
The car and the cost of living
We must acknowledge that the current cost of living crisis exacerbates many of the economic pressure people in Wales are feeling. Many of us are locked into an expensive reliance on cars which could be alleviated by investment in public transport networks which are more integrated, innovative and affordable.
Around 57% of people surveyed by the RAC said that they would be willing to use their cars less if the quality of public transport improved. Behaviour change must begin with changing behaviour at the top level of decision-making. We need to see more investment in this.
Alternative benefits – Economic resilience and cohesive communities
Recent reviews of the actual economic impacts of road investment bring into question the scale of such benefit. A study by What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth examined 2,300 studies of transport projects in OECD countries and the UK. Of those, only 17 had robust effects on the local economy.
Road infrastructure which cuts through the community reduces social connections and increases our reliance on taking the car whenever we need to pop to the shop. Communities which are low in traffic on the other hand are seeing a return to thriving high streets.
Providing people with a choice of affordable, sustainable transport choices will help improve air quality, our healthy life expectancy, reduce the gap between areas of high and low deprivation, improve economies and create cohesive communities.
Rhiannon Hardiman, Change Maker (Nature, Climate Change and Decarbonisation) at the Office of the Future Generations Commissioner, said:
“The Welsh Government’s proposals are a good step in the right direction and demonstrate the political commitment and leadership future generations need. They recognise that road building by default is an outdated response founded on a bias towards cars which is not founded in good economic, environmental or social sense.
It’s heartening to see politicians in Wales reject the status quo of addressing congestion through building more roads.”
We urgently need transport decisions to reflect the climate emergency, help us meet our legal obligations and targets as set out in the Environment (Wales) Act 2016 and Net Zero Wales. These decisions must also help us achieve the national well-being goals set out in the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015.
Once more Wales is leading the way, implementing real transformational change for the way we move now and in the future. This is not an easy decision, but it is what future generations need.