The Welsh Government has been accused of hypocrisy over its decision to scrap a new £17m bypass road in Llanbedr, Gwynedd.

The accusation came from Mabon ap Gwynfor, Plaid Cymru MS for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, who says that Welsh Labour’s support for works on the so-called “Heads of the Valleys” road in the south conflicts with the climate ministers’ strong words on the climate crisis this week.

The National Wales: North Wales MS Mabon ap Gwynfor says the government is overlooking the struggles faced by rural communities (Photo: Huw Evans Agency)North Wales MS Mabon ap Gwynfor says the government is overlooking the struggles faced by rural communities (Photo: Huw Evans Agency)

“It’s all well and good for the ministers to talk about difficult decisions and showing leadership, but if they are sincere then why not scrap the dualling of the A465, the Heads of the Valleys Road?” ap Gwynfor told The National this afternoon.

“The work on that road was conveniently started only a month before the moratorium [on road building] came into force, so it’s going ahead.

“True leadership, if they are genuinely concerned, would mean stopping that.”

Road building plans were frozen this summer to review their necessity as the climate crisis looms - but the  dualling of the A465 between Hirwaun and Dowlais in Rhondda Cynon Taff was excluded from the moratorium.

The A465 project was championed by the Welsh Government’s Valleys Taskforce, of which now-Deputy Minister for Climate Change Lee Waters was a member.

READ MORE: Moratorium on road building brings mixed reaction in Senedd

The project has previously been criticised for its high price tag – the construction cost per km is estimated to be more than double that of similar schemes in England and Scotland.

Critics pointed to the Welsh Government’s use of its Mutual Investment Model for the project – controversial because of the MIM’s similarity to costly New Labour-era “Private Finance Initiatives” – but the government says the cost is down to conditions at the site.

Climate change minister Julie James said this afternoon that the Valleys road was going ahead because the project was too far along to be stopped.

The National Wales: The now-scrapped bypass would have stretched along the west of Llanbedr, connecting to the north and south of the village The now-scrapped bypass would have stretched along the west of Llanbedr, connecting to the north and south of the village

Llanbedr, a picturesque stone village on the south westerly edge of Snowdonia National Park, is bisected by the busy A496, and travellers through the area must pass over a narrow old bridge in the middle of the village, which creates a notorious traffic pinch point - particularly during peak tourist months.

READ MORE: COP26 is the last chance for leaders to step up their game

Supporters of the bypass scheme claimed that the new road would reduce emissions in the village by 90%, and cut journey times in the area by around an hour.

 

The National Wales: Llanbedr's proximity to Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) makes it a busy visitor destination during summer months (Photo: Huw Evans Agency)Llanbedr's proximity to Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) makes it a busy visitor destination during summer months (Photo: Huw Evans Agency)

Ap Gwynfor says that the decision to scrap the project stems from a failure to understand the specific pressures faced by residents of his rural constituency.

Dyfrig Siencyn, Leader of Plaid-run Gwynedd Council, said yesterday that any CO2 emissions caused by the new road “fade into insignificance when compared to the emissions and pollution suffered by the residents of Llanbedr over the summer months.”

He had accused the government of sacrificing rural communities "on the altar of climate change”.

The deputy climate change minister hit back this afternoon.

"It's no good leaders and decision makers signing up to the principle of taking action on climate change, and then when it comes to the actions necessary to follow that through, running away and saying alarming things,” Mr Waters said.

READ MORE: Are road tolls inevitable once we reach the electric revolution?

"That just is not leadership that the scale of our times requires us to make."

The National Wales: Deputy Climate Change Minister Lee Waters criticised Gwynedd Council for "running away" from tough decisions this afternoon (Photos: Huw Evans Agency)Deputy Climate Change Minister Lee Waters criticised Gwynedd Council for "running away" from tough decisions this afternoon (Photos: Huw Evans Agency)

Ap Gwynfor dismissed this claim.

“I’ve spoken to dozens of people there who are impacted by that pinch point on the bridge,” he added.

“You’ve got a business whose suppliers are threatening to stop delivering because they don’t want their drivers wasting hours on the road, a person who suffered a cardiac arrest taken to hospital by air ambulance because they wouldn’t have survived the journey.

“There’s a clear problem, and it’s been known about for decades.”

Ap Gwynfor said the minimum he expects in the absence of a new road is fully sustainable, consistent public transport, but he isn’t optimistic.

READ MORE: M4 relief road alternatives in Monmouthshire need more urgency

“What I don’t think [the government] appreciates with these rural communities is that services are very, very far away,” he adds.

“If you’re living in Llanbedr, your nearest optician is in Dolgellau [18 miles away] – some people’s GP will be in Barmouth, some in Harlech, others elsewhere.

“These days people travel dozens of miles to get to a dentist – if they’re going to provide public transport, it has to be safe, efficient and sustainable.

“We don’t want to be dependent on private cars, but until that infrastructure is in place, we are.”

The National Wales: Mabon ap Gwynfor says many Llanbedr residents have to travel to Harlech to see a GPMabon ap Gwynfor says many Llanbedr residents have to travel to Harlech to see a GP

Llanbedr ranks among the 10% most deprived areas in Wales for access to services, which is measured based on average journey times to essential services like food shops, GP surgeries and schools.

Meanwhile, in the south.. 

Many of the criticisms raised in the Roads Review Panel report on the Llanbedr project echo planning rows in the south, particularly around developments proposed in Cardiff.

Noting that construction of the bypass would involve land clearance and the cutting down of mature trees, the RRP report says: “It therefore seems more likely than not that the scheme will increase CO2 emissions, making it more difficult for Wales to achieve its decarbonisation targets.”

READ MORE: COP26 is the watershed moment to get a grip

The report also levels a strong critique at Gwynedd Council for failing to thoroughly consider alternative solutions to the problem of congestion around Llanbedr, and says that the village’s currently vacant airfield is an “inappropriate” location for a commercial retail park, as its relative isolation would encourage car use.

Such arguments have been core to a continuing dispute over the construction of a new cancer hospital in Cardiff.

The site chosen by Velindre University NHS Trust was Cardiff’s northern meadows – a 23-acre patch of wooded meadowland in Whitchurch directly adjacent to a nature reserve.

The National Wales: An artist's impression of the new Velindre Cancer Centre site (Picture: Velindre NHS Trust)An artist's impression of the new Velindre Cancer Centre site (Picture: Velindre NHS Trust)

Construction of the new hospital would involve clearing a section of the nature reserve to build an access road, as well as the destruction of the meadowland itself.

Community campaigners Save The Northern Meadows, including recovering breast cancer patient Cat Lewis, who launched a legal challenge over the plans, say that the hospital should instead be co-located with other critical care services at nearby Heath Hospital, where Velindre’s existing cancer treatment centre is already based.

An open letter signed by 163 Welsh clinicians in January endorsed the campaigners’ view, saying that co-location of all cancer services at the Heath would be “safer” and “in line with best practice”.

READ MORE: Campaigner's legal challenge to new Velindre cancer centre rejected

Also funded through the MIM, the project was initially priced at £180million for construction, but the bill has now more than tripled to £562million, with the Welsh Government looking for a private contractor to both build and maintain the new centre over 27 years.

 

Last week campaigners were arrested while attempting to occupy the land in protest, as workers carried out initial clearance of vegetation.

A spokesperson for the Save the Northern Meadows campaign said: “Why doesn’t the Welsh Government’s commitment to tackling the climate crisis apply to the northern meadows?

“How can this be acceptable in a climate crisis? 

“There always were and are brownfield sites available, if they insist on building a stand-alone hospital.”

Significant plans to develop the Cardiff Bay area are also being made.

Part of these plans, on which the Labour-led council is a co-applicant, involves demolishing the Red Dragon Centre, which was built just 24 years ago, and County Hall, which was built 35 years ago.

The National Wales: Designs for the ambitious Cardiff Bay regeneration project (Picture: Cardiff Council)Designs for the ambitious Cardiff Bay regeneration project (Picture: Cardiff Council)

In their place would be a complex including a 15,000-capacity indoor arena, a relocated Travel Lodge, and luxury apartment blocks.

Assumptions about the development’s effect on CO2 emissions are based on assumed improvements to local public transport infrastructure for which funding has not yet been confirmed.

A new Eastern Bay Link Road was planned for the area, but this development is now subject to the Roads Review.

READ MORE: Cardiff house prices grow twice as fast as wages in 15 years

Lyn Eynon, a local campaigner with Cardiff Civic Society, said: “Cancelling the Llanbedr bypass shows the Welsh Government is tackling some contributors to climate change, but it must take a wider view.

“It should value green infrastructure by saving places like the northern meadows, and stop developments like the Cardiff Arena and tower blocks that emit and embody high levels of carbon.”

The Welsh Government declined to comment on the Velindre hospital and Cardiff Bay developments, though at a press conference this afternoon Lee Waters said: “I don't expect all roads schemes to be stopped, and we're not saying we'll never build another road.”

He added that in some instances new roads “are the right solution”, but that the government will be setting a stricter test for when that will be considered the case.

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