The UK Government should study the Welsh Government’s draft transport strategy closely as it prepares to publish its own long-awaited Decarbonising Transport Plan in the Spring. The Welsh draft strategy lasts up to 2040, and is an excellent document – one of the best we’ve seen from a public body. The consultation is open until 25 January, so if you live in Wales we urge you to respond.
Tackling climate change, increasing public transport and reducing traffic are at the heart of the draft strategy. The first of the five-year priorities is to tackle climate change by reducing the need to travel, not just relying on low emission vehicles to reduce carbon, with better planning and more homeworking.
The second priority is to increase public transport usage, whilst the third priority is to make sustainable transport safer and more accessible, such as better walking and cycling provision, and more charging points for electric vehicles (EVs). The fourth priority is to create a cultural change by incentivising sustainable travel choices, but it also talks of “exploring” ways to disincentivise car-use, such as Road User Charging (RUC) in urban areas.
The draft strategy explicitly states the need for the UK and Welsh Governments to work together on a “fully integrated public transport solution to congestion on the M4 as a more sustainable long-term alternative to private cars use in south east Wales”. The Prime Minister himself has threatened to override the Welsh Government to build an extremely controversial motorway over the Gwent Levels, an internationally important habitat.
To measure the success of the strategy, progress on the priorities will be monitored, for instance by measuring the percentage of people using public transport, or switching to walking and cycling. The strategy also makes clear that all Welsh Government spending will prioritise “active travel and public transport infrastructure” over road building.
What’s more, all investment decisions will be made using the Welsh Transport Appraisal Guidance (WelTAG) rather than the UK Government’s own outdated appraisal process which values small journey time savings over the environment. WelTAG assesses a scheme against the Welsh well-being goals as required by the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. It’s pretty radical stuff. Certainly compared to the UK Government.
The draft strategy has ‘mini-plans’ for each transport mode with specific action plans to fit the five-year priorities such as reducing speeds to 20mph in built up areas and introducing new legislation to reshape bus services.
It is very welcome to see urban road user charging included. The Welsh Government understands that revenue will need to be raised in a more equitable way as fuel tax receipts fall due to an increase in EV ownership. However it could be more ambitious on this front by pledging that all funds raised will be ring-fenced to pay for the transformational public transport and active travel improvements, to help people (especially in rural areas) get out of their cars.
This is a landmark document and the Welsh Government should be congratulated. However, as well as more ambition on road user charging it also needs to demonstrate its commitment to the investment hierarchy outlined (with public transport and active travel prioritised above road building). It could do this by scrapping any new road schemes that are currently being progressed such as the A55/A494/A548 Deeside Corridor Improvement ‘Red Route’ in north Wales, firmly opposed by STAMP and the North Wales Wildlife Trust.
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