Waking up on transport issues

Phil Parry says we need a strategic vision of transport policy in Wales.

Good transport links are vital for Wales and recent events have underlined how important they are.

The deal between Welsh government ministers and Westminster allows electrification of the valleys lines railways, shaving off a vital few minutes in journey times.

You will be able to get from Merthyr Tydfil and Treherbert to work in Cardiff in under 50 minutes. The hour figure is seen as significant because anything over that will deter passengers.

The UK government will provide £123 million of the estimated £500 million for electrifying the valleys lines and cover the whole cost of electrifying the main line to Swansea. Work is expected to begin in 2019.

Roads too need upgrading.

The Welsh economy minister, Edwina Hart, has chosen the most expensive and controversial ‘black route’ for the M4 relief road around Newport at a cost of £1 billion. This will avoid the bottle-neck of the Brynglas tunnels. Both of these schemes are highly contentious but, probably, necessary.

Transport is key to promoting economic growth.

Movement between north and south Wales is important politically but, statistically, nowhere near as vital as good links east to west.

The fly in the ointment remains Cardiff airport. It was bought last year by the Welsh government for £52 million, while critics have pointed out Glasgow Prestwick was purchased by the Scottish executive for a nominal £1.

There has been a slight upturn in passenger numbers recently but they are still low compared with Bristol. Cardiff airport has also been immersed in controversy. Of 80 recent trade missions, Welsh government ministers used Cardiff airport just five times, with Heathrow by far the most popular with ministers. This airport was used 49 times.

The newly unveiled National Transport Plan has been announced in the context of transport policy driving prosperity, a timely and necessary objective. It remains to be seen  whether this will work.

It is not simply on transport issues we need to wake up.

People in Wales are much poorer.

The Gross Value Added (GVA – a measure of wealth and how much is produced in the economy) per head of population is just £16898 per annum while in England it is over £7000 more.

Perhaps the two issues are linked.

Good links to a much larger neighbour (in this case England) are vital. Wales has a puny 3.4 per cent share of the UK’s GVA compared with 84.8 percent for England.

The economic benefits of strong links with centres which are a nexus for growth, whether England or areas along the M4 corridor, are vital.

It is a myth that the modern Welsh economy is based on manufacturing (although this is bigger than in other parts of Britain). Modern Wales, as with other parts of the UK, is dominated by the service sector. Even fourteen years ago it formed 66 per cent of GVA and it has increased since.

Even the concept historically, of Wales being based on manufacturing may be wrong – some commentators say extractive industry might be a better description.

But it is clear that in the modern economy, transport is critical and politicians must be aware of that fact, if they aren’t already.

They often talk of ‘evidence-based’ policy-making.

Here the evidence is overwhelming.

Phil Parry is the Editor of Wales Eye.

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