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The future of road investment in Wales and beyond

Highways By Michael Florance, Associate Engineer – 15 March 2023

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Michael Florance

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February 2023 saw the Welsh Government’s response to the Roads Review, setting out their position on current schemes in the pipeline and how to consider future projects.

The review considered over 50 schemes in the current pipeline and made recommendations to halt many of these in their current form. Halting in their current form is the key phrase – a set of tests is also recommended (and duly accepted by the Welsh Government) to assess future road building.

These are:

  • To support modal shift and reduce carbon emissions: This is about ensuring future roads investment does not increase the demand for private car travel.
  • To improve safety through small-scale changes: Investments for safety should focus on specific safety issues to be addressed.
  • To adapt to the impacts of climate change: Road investment can be justified to adapt for climate change to ensure roads can continue to function and contribute meaningfully to modal shift.
  • To provide access and connectivity to jobs and centres of economic activity in a way that supports modal shift: New and existing access roads will be necessary to connect new developments to the existing network.

The media headlines that followed publication of the response were unhelpful to say the least. But if you consider the above tests, the review does not represent a wholesale scrapping of road building as the initial headlines suggested. We are looking for sustainable road building, sustainable modes of travel and, often reallocating existing road space for the benefit of these modes.

Although the review is helpful and a good start to creating change in how we assess new schemes, the National Transport Delivery Plan 2022-2027 is where we should really be looking when it comes to understanding what the Welsh Government wants to do. Transport is how people and goods travel from one place to another – this is accepted in the plan, and I would consider globally. However, there are more ways for people and goods to move around without needing internal combustion engine vehicles, single occupied cars, and on vast highways centred around vehicular use. Roads are needed but also need more thought.

The transport sector in Wales contributes 15% to the UK's entire emissions and has been slow to reduce pollution for some time. There are many challenges for the transport sector around emissions, with behaviour often being the most challenging aspect to change and influence. Perhaps this is just that and it feels like we are at the beginning of the industry acknowledging that.

We do not need to compete: it is not road investment or environmental goals – it is about sustainable road investment.

Cundall’s Highways and Active Travel sector can help if you would like to learn more about how these changes impact your scheme or site. Please reach out to us here.