The Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, Sophie Howe, has asked Welsh Government to explain how decisions are being made on Wales’ road-building freeze exemptions.

In June, Welsh Government announced it was halting all future road-building projects while it conducted a review. Wales has a target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050, and transport accounts for 17% of emissions. 

The news was backed by the Commissioner, climate change activist Greta Thunberg, who showed her support on Twitter, and organisations such as Wildlife Trusts Wales and Friends of the Earth Cymru. 

Ms Howe has written to deputy minister for Climate Change, Lee Waters, to seek the government’s reasoning for making exceptions for projects, after Welsh Government said it would press ahead with plans for the Llandeilo bypass. 

She wants to know how exemption decisions fit with the government’s wider efforts around transport and tackling the climate and nature crisesand how WelTAG (the Welsh Transport Appraisal Guidance for thinking about proposed changes to the transport system and addressing  congestion) is being applied in the interests of both current and future generations.  

The Commissioner has previously advised the Government that the WeTAG process is often not being applied correctly and called on the Government to refuse funding for new road schemes which cannot demonstrate the process has been followed correctly. 

 Although the Commissioner cannot intervene in specific projects, her team have advised on some WelTAG schemes and she has considered concerns about the application of WelTAG on a number of projects as a test to find out whether there is a systemic problem with the application of the guidance. The projects considered included the M4 Junction 34 link to the A48, a new road in Bridgend as part of the plan for a new housing development, Llanbedr bypass, A40 Penblewin to Redstone Cross Scheme, and A438 Llandeilo and Ffairfach schemes. The Commissioner has highlighted to Government problems with the application of the guidance in each of these cases. 

The Commissioner said: “Our parliament just declared a nature emergency and we have a new climate risk assessment that has found the gap between risks and action is getting bigger – the whole world has a responsibility to step up in the fight against climate change, and all politicians must play their part. 

“I welcomed the road freeze as the right call – and a huge step in the right direction for the healthier, prosperous, resilient and more equal Wales, showing the difference having a Well-being of Future Generations Act makes. 

“Many of our current systems, including the way we plan and resource transport, are failing current and future generations, perpetuating our reliance on private cars which will not reduce our emissions and will not help us to create healthy and active communities. All our politicians need to be focused on asking challenging questions and taking difficult decisions to put that right.” 

The full letter, sent July 6, 2021 reads:  

“I welcomed Welsh Government’s decision to freeze on all new road projects and review them as part of the efforts to reduce carbon emissions – shifting investment from increasing road capacity to maintaining existing routes and prioritising public transport and active travel is exactly the type of bold decision that our current and future generations need. This is in line with many of the recommendations I made to Welsh Government in my Future Generations Report 2020 and builds on the vision set out in Llwybr Newydd, which my team was involved in.  

Despite this freeze on all new road projects, there are schemes, which seem to be continuing as normal and are set to advance to the next stage in the WelTAG process. I would like to better understand Welsh Government’s reasoning for making such exceptions for some road projects and how these decisions fit with the government’s wider efforts around transport and tackling the climate and nature crises and I would like to see how the decisions are taken in accordance with the sustainable development principle considering the needs of both current and future generations. 

You will be aware that, although I cannot intervene in specific cases, I do take an approach of considering matters raised with me when they appear to be a part of a systemic problem. In this regard, I have had concerns for a significant period of time about WelTAG – initially, my concerns were that the guidance was not aligned with the Well-being of Future Generations Act (hence, my office worked with Welsh Government to revise it), and later that the revised WelTAG was not being applied correctly. I wrote to former Economy Minister Ken Skates on 25 November 2020, identifying concerns with WelTAG application in example projects brought to my attention through public correspondence including the proposed M4 Junction 34 link to the A48, a new road in Bridgend as part of the plan for a new housing development, Llanbedr bypass, A40 Penblewin to Redstone Cross Scheme, and A438 Llandeilo & Ffairfach schemes.  

The integrity of the application of WelTAG is critical and I am very clear that the government should not fund schemes which cannot clearly demonstrate the process has been followed correctly. The specific issues regarding the extent to which projects are in line with decarbonisation targets is also a significant issue which now needs to be reassessed. 

I look forward to your response. 

Yours Sincerely, 

Sophie Howe, Future Generations Commissioner for Wales.