Transport in west Wales

IWA members in west Wales highlighted transport as a key issue for the 2008 programme, especially given the publication of the Assembly Government transport strategy for Wales and its contribution to the sustainable future for the region. The IWA’s west Wales branch organised a seminar that took place on May 8 to coincide with the launch of the transport strategy for Wales earlier the same day.
The strategy identified five areas for progress:
1) reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and other environmental issues;
2) improving public transport and better integration between modes;
3) improving links and access between key settlements and sites across Wales and strategically important all Wales links;
4) enhancing international connectivity; and
5) increasing safety and security.
These issues provided the context for the seminar and debate was further stimulated by John Pockett, General Manager of First Great Western and Director of the Confederation of Passenger Transport, and Ryland Jones of Sustrans – the sustainable transport charity.

Transport contributes 14 per cent of Wales’ greenhouse gas emissions and is the only sector that has a continued rising trend of emissions. Road transport contributes 90 per cent emissions from transport, with a 3 per cent annual increase in the number of cars on the road and ever increasing journey lengths by car users. 70 per cent of journeys are fewer than 5 miles in length; and school runs represent 10 per cent of those journeys. Fewer than 1 per cent of journeys to school are undertaken by bicycle. However, there has been a welcome reversal in the downward trend in bus travel – largely owing to Assembly Government policies on concessionary fares – and an increase in rail travel and innovative local community transport initiatives, such as the North Pembrokeshire Transport Forum.

Seminar attendees thought the new transport strategy said the right things but implementation will be based on a ‘business as usual’ model that will not account for the need to reduce reliance on ever more expensive and insecure sources of oil. The delivery of the transport strategy will be taken forward through transport plans put forward by the regional transport consortia – SWWITCH is west Wales’ consortium. The Scottish Government has committed to 70 per cent spending on sustainable travel in its transport budget, which represents the sort of investment to which regional transport plans should commit. Past policies have been based on a ‘predict and provide’ model, which has tended to provide more roads while demand has continually increased.

There are many examples of sustainable transport schemes within the region. Pembrokeshire’s Greenways initiative was highlighted. The initiative improved community transport and multi user routes, providing exemplars of the kind of alternative transport networks that Sustrans champions. Yet, these initiatives struggle to keep pace with the trend for centralisation of key services: post offices, shops, schools, hospitals and abattoirs, for example.

Seminar attendees expressed similar frustration with the Wales freight strategy, where there was a perceived need for greater focus on shifting freight to rail and retaining key elements of the rail infrastructure, such as sidings, that can be developed as centres for handling freight. While increased localisation of supply can reduce levels of freight traffic and there can be improvements in freight systems to increase rail use, the economics of supply networks mean that the focus should be on reducing car use.

The meeting agreed that the IWA should continue the momentum begun by the seminar, encouraging SWWITCH to engage members with the regional transport plan. The focus on improving the rail service was paramount, with the North Pembrokeshire Transport Forum’s campaign to improve the Fishguard–Carmarthen link and the need to improve the speed of the west Wales–Cardiff link. The next meeting of the IWA west Wales branch is scheduled for June 30, 2008 at 5:30pm.

Peter Davies is the IWA West Wales branch chair.

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