Political fallout over the future of road-building in Wales has continued this week, prompted by Welsh Conservative allegations the government had "failed" motorists through "apathy and incompetence".

A recent moratorium on new road-building projects has proved controversial. Ministers argue that Wales needs to move away from projects that encourage more people to drive, and towards alternatives like public transport and cycling.

But Conservative MS Natasha Asghar accused the government of a "knee-jerk reaction" to the problem. She said road improvements were "vital" for commuters and haulage and "ultimately the Welsh economy still very much depends on roads".

She said successive governments had "failed to address issues of rising congestion," with some road projects "delivered late or overbudget" and others "promised and then cancelled".

A Tory motion called on the Senedd to address public transport and electric vehicle shortfalls but was largely focused on building or improving stretches of road for the M4, A40, A55 and A470 – all projects the Conservatives had backed in their recent election manifesto.

Asghar said the government's moratorium had won the praise of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg but had been met with "anger and dismay" by many people living in Wales.

"Forcing people out of cars without providing adequate public transport as an alternative is simply unworkable," Asghar told the Senedd.

Other Tories joined the condemnation of the government's road agenda. Peter Fox said Wales was "possibly shooting itself in the foot" by not building new roads that would alleviate congestion on existing highways.

Citing poor air quality in Chepstow, Fox said a bypass for the town "would actually help the green agenda".

While cycling and walking should rightly be promoted, he added, "the reality is we are years away from being able to replace highways with alternative modes of travel".

But opposition members united to condemn the calls for more roads, arguing they were incompatible with the climate change targets and messages previously supported in the Senedd. The government has been urged to accelerate reductions in carbon emissions if it is to meet its long-term climate goals.

Deputy climate minister Lee Waters accused the Tories of "cognitive dissonance" over their support last week for declaring a nature emergency, followed this week by calls for new roads. 

"We’ve had two weeks of hot air proclaiming their green credentials… and [now] speech after speech of the same old rubbish," he said of the Conservatives, adding: "It’s no good signing up to targets unless you’re prepared to follow up on the action that is required to implement those targets."

Welsh Liberal Democrats MS Jane Dodds agreed, and Plaid Cymru's Delyth Jewell accused the Tory's of putting forward a "Jekyll and Hyde" motion in which calls to tackle air pollution were "undercut" by other calls for more roads.

Jewell said air pollution was of "vital concern" and repeated her party's calls for the government to pass a Clean Air Act.

Deputy minister Waters called for a cross-party "resetting" of the conversation around transport and environment and suggested there had been a degree of nimbyism when the moratorium was announced – alleging some members supported the freeze in general as long as it didn't affect road projects in their  own constituencies.

"I do understand the concerns," he said. "The road review does not mean we are ending road investment in Wales [but] will consider how we can move away from spending money on projects that encourage more people to drive, and spend more money on maintaining our roads and investing in real alternative that give people a meaningful choice."

At voting time, the Conservative motion was defeated by 40 votes to 15. 

Presenting the Tories' case to the Senedd, Asghar referred to the 1985 film Back to the Future, in which Christopher Lloyd's character, about to travel forward in time, says "where we're going, we don't need roads".

"Listening to those words, he could have easily been talking about Wales today," Asghar said, adding that it was a "sad fact they reflect the attitude of the Welsh Government."

That film spawned two sequels over a span of five years, and if the ferocity of Senedd members' arguments yesterday were any indication, the debate over the future of Wales' road network won't be going away any time soon, either.

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