With ASKAR SHEIBANI
CEO, Comtek Network Systems UK and chair, DBF
A CAMPAIGN to devolve important decision-making to north Wales is gathering pace after the Welsh Government axed major road projects for the region.
On Tuesday, February 14, the future of more than 50 road improvement projects has now become clear after the delayed review commissioned by the Welsh Government was published.
The Welsh Government’s decisions on each of the schemes have also been announced in its National Transport Delivery Plan (NTDP).
The projects had been paused by the deputy minister for climate change, Lee Waters, when he set up the Welsh Roads Review Panel led by transport expert Dr Lynn Sloman in September 2021 to examine the case for continuing with them.
As a result, improvements to the A483 around Wrexham will be scrapped and a review will be set up to consider an “exemplar” project to reduce car usage.
Also scrapped was the red route plan which would have seen a new eight-mile stretch of dual carriageway linking the A55 at Northop with the A494 and A550 north of Deeside Parkway Junction via the Flintshire Bridge.
It included other improvements and modifications, such as upgrading the A548 over Flintshire Bridge between Connah’s Quay and the Wirral.
That decision left Deeside politicians feeling ‘at a loss for words’ and ‘disheartened’ and many others are now campaigning for change.
At present, decisions over whether to improve the A483, A55, A494 and A5 are made in the Senedd in Cardiff.
But, a campaign is now progressing that calls on important decision-making for north Wales to be made in north Wales, rather than in the south.
Clwyd South MS Ken Skates has been leading the charge for devolving decisions and says that north Wales ‘needs to be in charge’ of its own transport system.
Speaking to the Leader, Mr Skates – who is a former Welsh transport minister himself – said: “Local roads are managed by local authorities and councils, who also make decisions on them. So, most of the roads in the region are owned and managed by councils, but the issue here is that the larger trunk roads are owned and managed by the Welsh Government.
“To give you an example of the impact the A483 decision could have locally – many people in my constituency have been using roads through Ruabon and Johnstown recently rather than the A483 junction, which is simply not up to standard.
“Decisions are being made without regard to reality – the A483 chaos which has occurred recently due to roadworks is justification in itself for the project to have gone ahead.
“People feel they haven’t been consulted enough on this. The well-being of future generations act (2015) requires the government to involve citizens and collaborate with citizens and communities for the people that they serve – and many feel that this hasn’t happened in this case.”
Mr Skates added that, although many of his constituents were ‘very upset’ by the news, several others were also in support of the scrapping of the A483 upgrade.
Another possibility in the coming weeks is the launch of a petition calling for decisions to be devolved to north Wales.
Asked about the possibility of a petition being set up, Mr Skates added: “There would have to be support from councils and the public of course but it wouldn’t surprise me to see one set up. It would be interesting to see what people think of the outcome.
“If decisions like this are being made, then they must be made in ways that do not jeopardise people’s jobs or livelihoods. Devolving the decision-making to north Wales would mean that more local voices are considered and heard.”
One man who says he would back such a petition calling for change is Askar Sheibani, who is chair of the Deeside Business Forum which has over 2,000 members.
He said a consultation held within the group saw the ‘vast majority’ back the red route plan before it was rejected.
He added: “Traffic on the A494, particularly during peak tourism times can come to an absolute standstill and, if a vehicle breaks down for example, it can stop traffic altogether.
“Our motorways and roads in north Wales are outdated and it feels like we have been ignored again with this decision. There is a real shortage of proper roads in north Wales.
“The red route was first discussed in 2017 and most people were happy about it as they could see the huge amount of opportunities it would bring to Flintshire and north Wales.
“The main issue is that the people who have made these decisions have got no idea of the local impact of these projects, as they have never lived here.
“The decision was like a bombshell dropped into our region’s economy and many of us have now lost confidence in the Welsh Government. How can they be trusted after this damage they have done which, will not only affect now, but the future also.
“I feel it has created a real divide between the north and the south and it is a disastrous decision. Everybody is fuming.”
Talking about the potential petition, Mr Sheibani added: “Decisions for north Wales need to be made by people who understand what the region’s needs are and who have their heart and soul here.
“Decisions like the one this week need to come to an end, they are putting us here in north Wales backwards.”
Speaking about the decisions in the Senedd, the Welsh Government’s deputy minister for climate change, Lee Waters said: “When we published the Wales Transport Strategy two years ago, we committed to start upon a llwybr newydd – a new path.
“The publication of this Roads Review, along with the National Transport Delivery Plan, and our new Roads Policy Statement, represents a major step forward on that journey.
“Let me be very clear at the outset, we will still invest in roads. In fact, we are building new roads as I speak – but we are raising the bar for where new roads are the right response to transport problems.
“We are also investing in real alternatives, including investment in rail, bus, walking and cycling projects.
“Of course, doing that in an age of austerity is very challenging. Not only are we not getting our share of HS2 investment, but the UK Government is pushing many bus services over a cliff edge, as well as slashing our capital investment budgets.
“Even if we’d wanted to keep progressing all the road schemes in the pipeline we just do not have the money to do so. Our capital budget will be 8% lower next year in real terms as a result of the UK Government’s failure to invest in infrastructure.
“With fewer resources it becomes even more important to prioritise and the Roads Review helps us to do that.”