All major road building projects in Wales have been scrapped as the Welsh Government makes fundamental changes to put environmental concerns first.
The decision was announced on Tuesday by deputy minister for climate change Lee Waters MS, who said all infrastructure projects in future must now “reduce carbon emissions and support a shift to public transport, walking and cycling”.
It follows a year-long review by the Welsh Roads Review Panel which was set up in September 2021 and led by transport expert Dr Lynn Sloman, during which 55 road projects were paused and reassessed.
In response to the panel’s findings, plans for a third Menai bridge will now no longer go ahead and neither will the Red Route in Flintshire.
Environmental and transport campaigners have welcomed the move, calling it “world-leading” and “bold”.
Meanwhile, members of the construction industry warned it could put jobs at risk and frustrated motorists have questioned how congestion on existing roads will be improved.
Speaking in the Senedd, Mr Waters said: “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.
“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.”
He added: “Our approach for the last 70 years is not working.
“As the review points out the by-pass 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.
“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.”
To reach net zero by 2050 the minister said the government must be “prepared to follow through”.
Addressing issues of congestion and its impact on commuters and businesses “will depend on different places”, Mr Waters told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme.
“We want to prioritise freight and we want to look at modal shift programmes like bus lanes, like park and ride, like active travel routes, like travel planning,” he told presenter Evan Davis.
Mr Waters also pointed to the £1.6 billion scheme for a North and South Wales Metro system and the bus franchising bill currently going through the Senedd.
Instead of the controversial Red Route in Flintshire, improvements will now be made to the A494 at Aston Hill.
Plans for a third Menai crossing between Anglesey and mainland Wales have been replaced by a review into how to improve congestion, ensure the resilience of the current bridges, and encourage people to use other modes of travel.
The improvements set out for the A483 around Wrexham will no longer go ahead and a review on how to reduce car usage will take place instead.
Smaller-scale improvements that have had the green light to proceed include the A4042 corridor from Pontypool, the M4 through Torfaen, the A487 between Fishguard and Cardigan and the A4076 at Haverfordwest.
Proposals for new roads will have to pass a strict criteria proving it will not increase carbon emissions, increase the number of private cars on the road, increase road speeds nor negatively impact the environment.
The reaction from across the nation has been mixed.
On Twitter, Welsh Conservatives leader Andrew RT Davies said: “Labour ministers in the Senedd won’t build new roads in Wales because they’ll ‘induce demand’.
“Because encouraging more visitors to Wales and money into our economy is obviously a bad thing.”
Welsh shadow minister for transport, Conservative Natasha Asghar, said: “Labour must provide more clarity as to the future of infrastructure in Wales, provide meaningful improvements and stop simply kicking the economic prospects of businesses in Wales into the long grass.”
Flintshire Council leader Ian Roberts said he was “concerned that there are currently no alternative solutions being put forward and no funding for much needed improvement works to local transport infrastructure”.
Labour Senedd member for Clwyd South Ken Skates said he believed decisions over transport “are best made at a regional level”, and called for the matter to be devolved to North Wales.
Another Labour member, Blaenau Gwent’s Alun Davies, raised concerns about the current availability of alternative transport methods.
He said: “If we’re going to take services away from people in terms of distance, then what we have to be able to do is to provide the public transport options available for people to reach those services, and that hasn’t happened.”
However Liberal Democrat leader, Jane Dodds, said: “For too long, we’ve spent millions on new roads with no real improvements in road safety or congestion.”
Friends of the Earth Cymru director, Haf Elgar, said: “This world-leading report is a breath of fresh air that promises a greener and fairer transport system in Wales.
“The response of the Welsh Government shows they are serious about tackling the climate emergency.
“We must break the cycle of building more roads for more cars – it will only create more congestion, make our air more polluted, and increase the emissions that are wrecking our climate.
“For the sake of the planet and our health, we need investment in better walking and cycling routes, and vastly improved public transport across Wales, including rural areas, to make it easier for people to leave the car at home.”
Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s head of campaigns, said: “The Welsh Government’s Roads Review marks the most significant change in UK roads building policy over the last 20 years.
“The proposals are bold in principle and forward looking as they realise the economic benefit of placing people and the environment at the heart of transport policy.
“This is a marked shift from other UK administrations’ simplistic and outdated views of building more roads as the answer to all transport woes from congestion to poor air quality.”