The Future Generations Commissioner for Wales has welcomed plans to improve public transport to reduce traffic on the M4- but says more needs to be done to retain the numbers of people working remotely.

Sophie Howe has responded to an interim report by the South East Wales Transport Commission, set up last autumn to work on alternative ways to reduce congestion on the motorway around Newport.

The report found that congestion on the M4 is largely a peak-hours problem, predominantly associated with commuting. People have few credible public transport alternatives for the types of journeys they need to make.

Lord Burns, Chair of the South East Wales Transport Commission said “Overall, our view is that the region needs an integrated network of alternative transport options that do not depend on the motorway. Our focus is now on deciding the transport services that should form part of this transport network, in particular new rail stations, reliable bus services and new cycling routes.”

Work has already started on a set of final recommendations based on the emerging conclusions, and these will be put forward to Welsh Ministers by the end of the year. 

The transport commission was launched after First Minister Mark Drakeford scrapped plans for a £1.6bn, 13-mile relief road for the M4 last June.

The Commissioner said at the time that the road, which would have cut into the biodiversity-rich Gwent Wetlands, was incompatible with the Well-being of Future Generations legislation.

Not only did the project not align with Wales’ carbon reduction targets, she said, it also went against the Act’s well-being goals of supporting the resilience of ecosystems and a healthier Wales. It also did not take into account future trends such as increased remote working – something which has been fast forwarded as a result of COVID-19 and research suggests is likely to become a new normal with the potential to reduce congestion on our roads.

Last week, the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that he’d build the 13-mile motorway around Newport, despite the issue being the responsibility of the Welsh Government.

Ms Howe responded by saying Wales needed full borrowing powers to use the money on a green recovery, prioritising green housing, jobs and infrastructure.

Funding, she says, should be put into projects including improving the quality of existing homes, the expansion and upgrade of Wales’ bus and rail networks and innovative industries including electric vehicles and recycling.

She said: “Wales didn’t need a £1.6bn motorway a year ago and it doesn’t need one now.

 “We need green jobs, industries and infrastructure to recover from the pandemic, and protect ourselves against the uncertainties of another crisis in the form of the climate and nature emergency.”

The interim recommendations from the Commission signal another step towards reducing Wales’ reliance on cars towards more sustainable forms of transport, which are better for the environment and for people’s health

Ms Howe, whose role is to protect future generations from the political actions of today, said Wales has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reset its economy.

She said: “Everyone in Wales deserves the health equality that comes from clean air and a commitment to a greener economy.

“Welsh Government needs full borrowing powers to deliver this shift to a green economy. With that investment, we can be UK-leading, and move from an economy built on consumption to one which safeguards jobs and protects the planet for our children.”

Organisations from the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) to the UN, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and the International Energy Agency (IEA), along with economists and academics, have called on the Government to invest in a green recovery, which has significant potential to create jobs for the future.

The commissioner has called for a Universal Basic Income and a four-day working week to reduce our carbon footprint and keep people well, since her Future Generations Report was published in March. 

It is the biggest piece of work since the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act became law in 2015 and Ms Howe is asking Welsh Government to use it to inform a response to the crisis which protects society in the long-term. 

The report found Wales is not acting quickly enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the commissioner urged policy-makers to ensure climate action is accelerated, not slowed down, in the response to the crisis.

In a paper outlining five steps to reset the economy, Ms Howe  asked ministers to show political courage in recovery plans, with a focus on quality of life over GDP.


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