Yet another road

Sophie Howe makes a case against building an M4 Relief Road.

Trends in driving and transportation are already seeing a reduction in the number of young people holding a driving licence and an increase in rail travel. Yet, we are in the middle of a debate about building yet another road- a road which will be funded via borrowing and repaid by our future generations.

We already know that the rate of young men holding driving licences has declined by 11% with their average car mileage falling by around 2,000 miles a year; young people are increasingly choosing ‘on-demand’ transport such as Uber and ZipCar. Alongside this driverless vehicles, which more efficiently use our road networks, and drone technology are just some of the things some leading experts to predict that children born today will never need to learn to drive.

As the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales it is my role to ensure that public bodies are fulfilling their duties in relation to the Well-being of Future Generations Act. The Act offers an opportunity to seek different and new solutions to persistent problems we face in Wales, such as increased congestion on our roads and a public transport system that is struggling to cope with an increase in passengers.

In my evidence submitted to the Public Local Inquiry on the M4 corridor around Newport, which begins on Tuesday February 28th, I have suggested that £1.1bn could be better spent in a way that will benefit us now and in the future.

For example, £1.1bn could be better spent on providing an improved, integrated public transport system which would make a real difference to the 25% of Welsh families who have no access to a car as well as supporting our national obligations and commitment to reduce our carbon footprint.

Throughout Europe there are some great examples of how an integrated transport system is working well. The Netherlands is considered as having the clearest integrated public transport, land-use and environmental policy and planning. Copenhagen’s comprehensively tendered bus system, integrated public transport system, where over 50% of the population cycle to work every day.

There is an opportunity for us to replicate the success of these European cities by developing public transport-based solutions that include the Metro, an existing large scale infrastructure project being rolled out in south Wales this year.

For the 40% of journeys currently taking place on the M4 local travel integrated bus and rail service including integrated ticketing, which is proven to be popular and better value for money for passengers, could well be the answer to getting more people off the roads and onto public transport. Better use of technology to control traffic flows and improving key junctions, increased park-and-ride facilities on the outskirts of Newport could also help and could be developed in a way that would benefit our health, and environment and cost much less.

In Wales we are leading the way with the Well-being of Future Generations Act. The obligations to plan for the long term, to prevent problems from occurring, to integrate policy and collaborate with others and to involve people are set out in the Act. The Government and the other public bodies must be able to demonstrate how they have applied these principles along with an analysis of how their policies will maximise their contribution to national well-being goals.  The goals point us towards inclusive growth based on a low carbon economy and the protection of our natural environment. So it seems obvious that the Welsh Government should be working towards the creation of a low carbon transport system that matches the aspirations of the Act and reflects the rapid changes and future trends we face in Wales and across the world.

Our future generations will demand more innovative transport solutions which will meet our obligations to reduce our carbon emissions and work for the 25% people, mostly those in poverty, who don’t own cars and provide an efficient way to enable them to travel to work and social and cultural activities.

The things we do now to prepare for this must ensure we’re thinking to 2036 and beyond, rather than falling back on a 1996 solution of building yet another road.

Sophie Howe is the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales.

7 thoughts on “Yet another road

  1. There a number of logic leaps above which don’t really stand up to scrutiny. Whist developing low carbon integrated urban short-hop transport networks are clearly important, it isn’t entirely fair to examples of very different parts of Europe so completely to the problems of the M4 around Newport – which, of course, is also a key national route with the bulk of users not starting or ending their journey there. It is also questionable to apply national trends (be they UK or Wales (the article isn’t clear)) to Newport so casually for the same reasons. In short it looks more like cherry picking rather building a strong & cohesive argument, something which all sides of this debate seem happy to do.

    In saying this i’m not contending that any of the alternatives are bad ideas, they are simply addressing different aspects of the problem, it just depends on what assumptions you are willing to make and how you prioritize within your solutions. This complexity gets to the heart of the weakness of the FG Act which have been debated at length for many years. In short its goals are vague enough you can use it to support or oppose just about any policy decision or specific project out there depending on your priorities. Naturally, this won’t prevent any of the debates continuing, they are pretty much guaranteed thanks to the weakness of the guidance so far produced by the Government . Until something hits judicial review we won’t really know what the Act will truly mean in practice. The big question is whether it will be the M4 or the Swansea Lagoon which gets us there first.

  2. Clearly there are arguments for and against the M4 corridor project at Newport – and the environmental case against building more motorway is (as always) strong.
    Interesting to read that the Commissioner for Future Generations is getting involved in this.
    There’s a battle to be fought at the public inquiry – and it will be won and lost.
    But I’m also intrigued about what the Commissioner suggests as an alternative – and would ask if she is going to get involved in campaigning there.
    She proposes:
    – smarter road (non motorway) infrastructure to better control (and improve?) traffic flows
    – park and ride at Newport (only Newport?)
    – better value integrated public transport (joint ticketing)
    – ‘cycle cities’ like Copenhagen
    – integrated public transport, land use and planning like the Netherlands.
    But aren’t we a million miles from achieving any of these?
    Isn’t the Metro just as much of a ‘sticking plaster’? A scheme to replace ageing and well past use-by date diesel trains – not a tram/light railway system to sort Cardiff’s notorious traffic jams?
    Obviously, citing public transport and planning systems like the Netherlands (the world’s flattest country) as a solution to the South Wales coastal belt, mountains and valleys towns, cities and villages has to be questioned.
    It’s not just the terrain.
    Welsh Government has abdicated responsibilities for cycling and footpaths
    Local authorities have successfully staved off ‘reform’
    ‘Tribal’ political feuding – one community against another – thrives
    Administrations and bureaucracy at all levels stills clings to its ‘silo’ mentality.
    To be a bit parochial myself with regard to the Heads of the Valleys I would suggest the Commissioner could threw her weight behind ambitions to:
    – reclaim the old railway tunnels for Wales and re-open them as cycle routes
    – restore the historic and derelict ironworks heritage sites that are often a blot on the landscape
    – build a decent cycle route across the Heads of the Valleys to compliment the multi-millions spent on dualling the A465.

  3. A brave article.
    Whilst I agree with much that it said, her article does not actually offer any solution to what is a significant transport bottleneck. I believe that the current preferred black route to relive M4 traffic congestion is a massive overkill, that will create greater congestion to the east of Cardiff by the M4 effectively going from 4 to 10 lanes. However, there needs to be a properly thought out solution to the M4 problem, not just theory.
    I hope that the Commissioner’s intervention will encourage greater and wider debate on this project, moving us away from a road solution from the 1980’s, not for the 21st Century.

  4. Yet another ‘pointless’ publically funded body!!. I do wonder as a tax payer if the Assembly/WAG is living in a parallel universe as far as the allocation of very scarce resources are concerned when I read such a ‘useless’ piece as above.We are now paying public officials to possibly a)develop the M4 for economic needs in south wales,b) argue the case against (a).When you think that funding for sports facilities for ordinary people like me is being cut/abolished,but at same time funding Commisioners for people with ‘in growing’ toenails is continuing apace. Where is the welsh Tea Party??

  5. Not a supporter of the relief road but this shows your complete lack of understanding beyond the Cardiff bubble you popped out of. Really looking forward to the first Uber arriving here in Powys or the driverless tractor!

  6. This is an interesting, strategically argued and timed, comment an issue which has stirred controversy in S.E. Wales. Strategic, because it raises discussion of the proposed M4 Relief Road to a higher plane, and into the context of the Future Generations (Wales) Act, which the Assembly adopted as a fundamental operating principle, and sets Wales apart from other jurisdictions in the UK.

    Commissioners, occupy an interesting position in our democracies: not exactly ombudsmen or auditors, more like the voice of ethics and conscience perhaps. When they say something, we should listen, read and think before changing or modifying our actions. I say this with experience in the coordinatiion of a government department’s, and sometimes a government’s, responses to the reports of commissioners on environmental and sustainability in another jurisdiction. Political spin and jargon did not make the grade in those responses.

  7. The destruction of Wales as a viable competitive place to do business looks to be assured – the office of the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales is part of this UN Agenda 21-2030 derived process the clueless dreamers down in the Bay have put on the statute book. Modern day Luddites Wales desperately does not need… Mostly based on fake science…

    Hopefully it won’t take very long for the smart money to realise how Wales and the 21st century technology based development it needs to rebuild its economy has been crippled. Reap what you sow and watch the people with ideas and money go elsewhere where they don’t have to fight endless negativity to get simple things done.

Comments are closed.

Also within Politics and Policy