This week’s announcement by the Welsh Government about not building any new roads will infuriate some and delight others.

Some will argue that the HGVs will continue to go through the centre of Llandeilo, affecting air quality. Others will point to the congestion on the Britannia Bridge where a dual carriageway narrows to one lane creating a natural chokepoint for freight travelling to Ireland. These people are correct when they point this out.

However, others will say that building roads is never the answer. Eventually those roads will fill with traffic and of course, more petrol and diesel powered cars simply worsen air quality and increase the effects of climate change. These people are also right.

The M4 relief road is a classic example of an issue that divides people. I’ve often heard it said to me that I was in favour of the relief road. That’s not correct; I’d never expressed a view on it.

What I can say is that I understand the decision that was taken to look at alternatives to a new road. The project had become fantastically expensive and threatened to cannibalise the road budget for the rest of Wales.

In addition, the relief road would have had the perverse effect of speeding up traffic towards Port Talbot, an even worse traffic problem with no easy road building solution.

There will be some people who will always drive. A family of four on their way to rural Pembrokeshire is always going to use a car. Public transport alternatives are either too expensive or impractical.

But there are those who commute who could be persuaded to use better and more comfortable public transport alternatives so lessening traffic at Brynglas.

We will also have to have a debate about how to pay for roads in the future. If people aren’t buying cars powered by fossil fuel, then the tax on petrol and diesel will diminish over time. How then do we make up for that loss? There are some who will argue for a pay-by-the-mile system. The more you drive, the more you pay.

That sounds reasonable but there are hidden unfairnesses in such a system. If you live in an urban area with good public transport links then you have alternatives. For many in rural Wales however, the car is the only choice because there simply aren’t any buses. A simple system that charges by the mile would lean more heavily on those without access to public transport.

Simply making it more difficult to drive isn’t the answer.  However, there have to be good alternatives and the investment by Transport for Wales in far better rail services is very welcome.


For too long, Whitehall was happy to see ancient and unreliable trains serve the Welsh rail network. Now that we control the services we are at least seeing modern, air-conditioned, and in time, electric services on many of our commuter routes for the first time.

There’s a lot to do though. I’ve never understood the argument put forward by some that we shouldn’t build new roads but also that we shouldn’t build new railway lines. The trains are crucial in getting people out of cars and planes.

In France, Spain and Italy, proper high-speed trains run at 200mph on dedicated tracks. That’s resulted in a huge drop in air traffic. The fares are also far more affordable than the UK. The reality is that Britain’s rail network is pretty second rate compared to many others in Europe because of a failure to invest.

Our rail infrastructure is largely Victorian, designed for steam locomotives to run at far lower speeds. We cannot even put double decker trains on the network because so many tunnels are too low and too narrow.

In addition, the network has a lot of curves. This is simply a legacy of having the world’s oldest rail network. It means that we can never have proper high speed train travel.

The answer has to be new, dedicated tracks. To suggest that the existing network could somehow be upgraded just doesn’t work. You would have to straighten and rebuild tracks as well as enlarge almost every tunnel. You can keep the existing structure and sweat it, but you will never be able to claim that you have a modern 21st century inter-city rail network.

We have also lacked vision in the past. Take the Second Severn Crossing as an example. In any other European country they would have put a train deck on that bridge. Its sited within yards of the Severn Tunnel, a one hundred and thirty-five year old piece of infrastructure which has to have 14 million gallons of water pumped out of it every day to keep it open.

Why on earth it didn’t strike someone that diverting the train onto the bridge so the tunnel could be closed is beyond understanding.

There are hard choices in transport, but all of those choices require investment and vision. If we are to be serious about tackling climate change we’re going to have to be serious about making that investment. The alternative is a world of increasing climate change and more congestion.

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