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.

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