A rant about roads – by Denise Lovering, Glenside Commercials

As some people may already know, I have been lobbying to get the tolls on the Severn reduced for quite some time now.  There have been lots of meetings with AMs and MPs trying to get them to support an enquiry into the impact of the tolls on the Welsh economy, with a view to getting them reduced.  I have spoken to transport managers and fleet operators, one of whom pays a staggering £200,000 every year in tolls. Everyone is agreed that “Something should be done” but what?

I work in the transport sector, not seen as a “sexy” place to work, as I said at a recent lunch, but one that is necessary. We all want fresh fruit, meat and fish in our supermarkets and shops, we want to be able to buy latest fashions (well some do) and some of us want to be able to go out on a Sunday to buy furniture, screw drivers, paint, bedding plants, charcoal for the BBQ and even loo roll (when the dog has grabbed the last one and thinks it’s amusing to chew it up!)

All these things, with a few exceptions, are delivered by road.  By the trucks that everyone sees as a menace on our road, by drivers who drive through the night to get our goods to market in other countries too.  The problems lie not with the trucks or the drivers, although we all have stories about the one that “drove like a lunatic” but with the road infrastructure they have to drive on.

Of the 33 million or so vehicles registered on our roads, only 460,000 are commercial vehicles – you know those big ones that we see everywhere!!

Take the M4, for instance.  This was in part, to be a road link between Ireland and Europe, as well as giving the people of Wales and the South West easier access to London and the South. It is part of the strategic road network of the UK.  The part that runs through Newport does not conform to current motorway standards, lacking continuous hard shoulder, having some junctions that are too close together and, worse of all, a restricted two-lane section through the Brynglas Tunnels with no escape route.

Hopes were raised in the 90’s when work started into the feasibility of an M4 Relief Road.  The transport sector in particular held its’ breath, yes it would probably be tolled, but they were used to paying tolls, but it would ease congestion, improve driving times and in general make travelling easier for all users. And so we all waited.   Then, last year, after spending approx £15m on feasibility studies, the Deputy FirstMinister announced there would be no M4 relief road, it would cost too much money!

Instead the proposed alternative will be a patchwork of roads and roundabouts called “M4 Magor to Castleton Corridor Enhancement” and we will have to endure possibly another four years of road works to make  it possible.  In four years time the traffic flow will have increased again and we will still be trying to find a solution to the congestion and frustration that the M4 relief road would have helped to solve.

We deserve better than this!

I was repeatedly told by AMs and MPs alike that the Severn tolls issue was not a “devolved issue” but one that I should take up with Central Government.  In a letter from the former Transport Minister, Sadiq Khan, he told me that he couldn’t do anything, as the tolls were governed by an Act of Parliament. It was like riding on the Magic Roundabout!

Together with a colleague from Freight Transport Association, I attended a meeting in the Senedd recently, organised by Mike German (now Lord German) a Welsh Lib Dem AM, who has long been an advocate of reducing or freezing the tolls.  The meeting was with the Deputy First Minister and we put our case for a reduction in the tolls and again he reminded us that the tolls were not an issue for the Assembly Government.

So I asked him why.  Why can’t the Assembly Government work together with the Welsh Office and Central Government, to come up with a joined up approach, something that will help all the businesses and people in this region; the people who pay the bulk of some £77.6m every year in tolls.   We asked for an inquiry, along the lines of the Buchanan Report into the Humber Tolls, to find out the impact of the tolls on the economy of Wales.  After listening to all we had to say, he said that he would consult with his team and get back to us.

To my utter astonishment and delight, I have received a copy letter from Ieaun Wyn Jones, confirming that, after due consideration, he has decided to agree to a study into the economic impact of the tolls on the Severn Crossings.  This will be undertaken by the Economic Research Advisory Panel.

I appreciate that there is still a long way to go yet.  But this is a start. The traffic on our roads is not getting any less; improvements to the rail network are years away and without proper facilities for access for vehicles, moving freight onto rail is a long, long way off.

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