The Welsh government is to scrap the vast majority of its planned road construction programmes and try to ensure that many of those remaining do nothing to generate new car journeys, as it seeks to encourage a shift away from the use of private cars.
Lee Waters, Cardiff’s deputy climate change minister, announced the changes to the Senedd on Tuesday after receiving the findings of a roads review commissioned from an expert panel in June 2021.
The review criticised many of the projects on the grounds that they would create extra capacity, so generating more car trips and, in time, new congestion and yet more demand for further expansion.
The announcement is the most radical effort to move away from dependence on motor vehicles in any part of the UK.
Telling the Senedd that the government accepted the panel’s findings, Waters said the approach taken over the past 70 years was “not working”. Wales had no chance of meeting its targets for achieving net zero carbon emissions if the planned projects went ahead, he added.
“As the review points out, the bypass that was demanded to relieve congestion often ends up leading to extra traffic, which in time brings further demands for extra lanes, wider junctions and more roads,” Waters said. “Round and round we go, emitting more and more carbon as we do it and we will not get to net zero unless we stop doing the same thing over and over.”
The review recommended that road development projects should go ahead only if they met four purposes — shifting trips to sustainable transport solutions such as cycling; reducing casualties; adapting roads to the effects of climate change; or providing access to development sites where a high proportion of journeys would be by sustainable transport modes.
The review recommended proceeding with only 17 of the 59 road projects it considered. Some of them it felt would meet the objectives the review considered acceptable; with others, it recommended going ahead as long as they removed any element that would increase road capacity.
The review classed 15 of the projects as local authority schemes. Waters told the Senedd those would be considered in future funding rounds, provided they met the criteria set out in the review.
Natasha Asghar, transport and technology spokesperson for the opposition Welsh Conservatives, attacked the decision as reflecting a “backwards, anti-driver agenda”.
“To you, deputy minister, roads might be these awful stretches of concrete,” Asghar said. “But to us, businesses, commuters and residents, they are a necessity.”
All road-building projects in Wales have been on hold while the review has been carried out.