21 Jul 2023
Nation Cymru, by Martin Shipton

More people in Wales oppose the Welsh Government’s ban on building most new roads as a measure to tackle climate change than support it, according to a new poll.

The policy was introduced in February and followed First Minister Mark Drakeford’s decision in 2019 not to proceed with the M4 relief road in Newport on environmental and cost grounds.

A poll commissioned from Opinium by Britain Remade, a pro-growth group founded by Sam Richards, a former special adviser to Boris Johnson when he was Prime Minister, shows that 49% are opposed to the ban, while 33% support it and 18% of the Welsh population say they don’t know.

People responded to the poll after being played a message which said: “Earlier this year, the Welsh Government announced that all major road-building projects would be scrapped. No new road project in Wales will get funding if it will have the capacity for more vehicles than the existing roads or if it will allow those vehicles to travel more quickly. To what extent do you support or oppose the ban on building new road projects in Wales?”

Following the year-long review by the Welsh Roads Panel, 55 road building projects were scrapped by the Welsh Government on climate grounds.

Almost half (49%) also thought that banning road building would be ineffective at reducing overall carbon emissions in Wales.

This view is said to have been backed up by research conducted by Britain Remade, which concluded that continuing to deliver new road projects which cut traffic congestion, speed up journey times and increase economic growth can happen at the same time as tackling climate change.

Carbon emissions

The research, which looked at the impact of Westminster’s main scheme for building and upgrading Britain’s motorways and major roads, claims to dispel the “myth” that the easiest way to cut carbon emissions is to stop building new road infrastructure.

It found that CO2 emissions from road transport increased by just 0.1% from the 370 miles of road built through the Department for Transport’s Road Investment Strategy 1 between 2015 and 2020. This included emissions from both building and maintaining the roads and the extra journeys that the new roads encourage.

According to Britain Remade, the research found that carbon emissions from motorists are expected to plummet by 64% by 2050, compared to 2020 levels, as motorists make the switch from petrol and diesel cars to electric vehicles. This is despite an expected 18% increase in total miles driven during the same time period.

The latest polling also found that half of people in Wales (50%) thought the ban on building new roads would have a negative impact on the economy.

The polling demonstrated wide opposition to the road building ban across the political spectrum, with 67% of Conservative voters, 46% of Labour voters and 43% of Plaid Cymru voters all against. By contrast, 26% of Conservative voters, 38% of Labour voters and 39% of Plaid Cymru backed the new roads ban.

In north Wales, the decision by the Welsh Government to scrap the Third Menai bridge over the Menai Strait from Anglesey to mainland Wales has also been challenged by the polling, with close to half (46%) of people within the region against scrapping the new crossing. The shelving of the project was seen as a blow to the local economy in Anglesey as the scheme would have supported plans for a Small Modular Reactor at the Wylfa nuclear power station site.

Mr Richards said: “Our polling has revealed huge levels of opposition to the Welsh Government’s barmy policy of banning new roads being built from across the political spectrum, which just goes to show how badly thought through the policy is.

“If we want to tackle climate change the answer is not banning new roads. All this will achieve is more congestion and longer journey times, while strangling economic growth and job creation in Wales.

“Instead, we need to build roads fit for the future, lined with a plentiful supply of electric vehicle charging stations so that drivers have the freedom to make the switch when the time is right for them.

“The switch to electric vehicles isn’t going to happen overnight. The Welsh Government needs to get ready for the future by building the infrastructure it needs now, so drivers are confident they’ll be able to quickly and easily get from A to B without a second thought.

“Yes, we need to be investing in new railways, new trams and new cycle paths, but we also need to invest in roads, which is the way most people get to work. They should be helping drivers, not punishing them.”

‘Raising the bar’

In February, when the new policy was announced by Deputy Transport Minister Lee Waters, he told the Senedd: “We will not get to Net Zero unless we stop doing the same thing over and over’

“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.”

* The total sample size for the poll was 2,001 Welsh adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between June 30 and July 11.The figures have been weighted and are representative of all Wales adults aged 18+.