North Wales Transport Commissioner Sue Flack reports on recent policy developments in Wales and what Scotland can learn from their success.
Transform Scotland is always keen to learn lessons from other places and recently the Welsh Government has been hitting the headlines with a series of radical transport proposals – including country-wide bus franchising, a default 20mph speed limit on roads and most recently the Wales Roads Review which recommends the abandonment of many existing road schemes.
How did this happen?
It’s partly the result of an Act passed in 2015 that’s not actually directly about transport at all: the Well Being of Future Generations Act. This act puts a responsibility on public bodies to work in a sustainable way to meet well-being goals. This was followed by the Llwybr Newydd: the Wales Transport Strategy in 2021, which sets a target of 45% of all journeys to be by sustainable means by 2045, up from 32% currently, to reduce transport emissions and contribute to meeting climate emergency targets.
But the action which seems to have really changed things was the setting up of the Wales Roads Review Panel, with the brief to consider the current road programme and the future of road investment in Wales. The Panel, which consisted of distinguished academics and practitioners, reported in February 2023, and the report was largely agreed by the Welsh Government. The report recommends that road schemes should only be for the purposes of promoting sustainable transport, adapting to climate change, serving sustainable development or improving road safety. This is a very high bar for road schemes to pass, representing a revolution in the way that schemes are considered, and few existing road proposals in Wales will meet these new criteria.
What will happen instead of the proposed road schemes?
The specific reasons for each scheme will have to be considered carefully and alternatives generated. This is likely to include bespoke packages of public and active transport improvements, demand management activity such as travel plans, and serious engagement to get people on board with the new ideas. This will not be easy!
There is already one example of this happening in Wales – the South East Wales Transport Commission, chaired by Lord Burns, looked at how to reduce congestion on the M4 in South East Wales without requiring additional capacity for vehicles. The Commission reported in 2020 and the recommendations were largely agreed by the Welsh Government. They included a modern integrated public transport system, summarised as ‘One Region, One Network, One Ticket’, alongside comprehensive active travel improvements. These proposals are currently being implemented.
In 2022, the Government set up a North Wales Transport Commission, also chaired by Lord Burns, with a brief to consider what is needed in North Wales to support a move to sustainable transport. This is a very varied area with many different challenges, and the Commission is tasked with coming up with realistic, innovative and effective ideas within the framework of the transport strategy and the Roads Review Panel recommendations. The Commission is due to report later in 2023.
Together, the Roads Review Panel and the various transport commissions are setting the scene for radical improvements to transport in Wales. Their effectiveness depends, of course, on full buy-in and acceptance by politicians (and others) of the need for sustainable solutions, and this goes back to the importance of the Well-Being of Future Generations Act. It seems to me that this model of wide-ranging sustainability legislation followed by specific investigations into particular themes or geographical areas is one way of progressing the very difficult behaviour changes required for achieving climate and health objectives.
A Scotland Sustainable Transport Commission?
So my question is – given the existing policy commitments of the Scottish Government regarding climate and the National Transport Strategy, would it be a good idea to set up a Scotland Sustainable Transport Commission, with a brief to make recommendations on how Scotland can meet the very ambitious 20% reduction in car km by 2030 target? Any commission would of course have to have the full support of the Scottish Government, as well as a commitment to funding and implementing agreed recommendations. I think it is worth consideration – what do you think?