In a report published today, Wednesday 6 March 2013, the Commons Welsh Affairs Committee says that despite welcome new Government investment in cross border rail links, major problems remain with the key M4 road link.
This motorway is a key strategic road for Wales and the UK more broadly, and essential for the Welsh economy. The Committee says the route has suffered from under-investment and congestion for too long. The UK and Welsh Governments must work together to find attainable, funded solutions to these problems.
The Committee also says the high toll on the Severn Crossing is still hampering the development of businesses in Wales and deterring inward investment to Wales and the UK Government should bring forward proposals for reducing it.
The Committee welcomes the new investment in cross-border rail links into Wales but says current plans for the HS2 high speed rail link could cause damage to the Welsh economy. The exclusion of South Wales from the HS2 proposals means businesses and people may relocate eastwards across the border.
The development of a high speed rail link from Wales to England would be an important boost to the Welsh economy and help to achieve the aim of successive Governments of rebalancing the UK economy: the Committee says the UK Government and Welsh Government should begin developing plans for such a link as part of the wider high speed rail network.
There are good examples of joint working between the two governments to secure improvements to strategic cross-border routes, and especially welcome is the almost £2 billion of rail investment on the electrification of the Great Western Main Line and a proposed new rail link to Heathrow Airport. But the Committee says it is unclear why the Welsh Government should be entitled to a "Barnett" consequential payment in respect of the Crossrail project but not HS2.
It also notes that rail connectivity between North and Mid Wales and England has been overlooked for too long and calls for more frequent rail connections from Mid Wales to England.
Some 138 million journeys take place each year across the English – Welsh border, for commuters, business people, freight or leisure. The two countries are highly integrated economically and geographically and good transport links are essential to the economy.
- The Department for Transport and Wales Office should support the Welsh Government in developing the business case for electrification of the North Wales Main Line so that it can considered as part of the next round of rail investment;
- The UK Government should work with the Welsh Government to identify attainable funding solutions for essential improvements to the M4;
- The UK Government should bring forward proposals for the future of the Severn Crossings and tolling regime after they revert to public ownership;
- The UK and Welsh Governments should work together to assess the economic impact of HS2 on Wales, and identify how any adverse effects can be mitigated.
David Davies, Chair of the Committee said:
"We welcome the Government’s decision to extend the electrification of the Great Western Main Line from Cardiff to Swansea, and to electrify the Valley lines into Cardiff. These are both issues that we have pursued with vigour in recent years and it is good to see these improvements that will benefit passengers and increase economic and employment opportunities throughout Wales.
"However, it is disappointing that Wales has so far been excluded from plans for the high speed rail network developing across the UK. The UK and Welsh Governments should now begin to address this.
"We have long warned of the damage that is done to the Welsh economy by the high toll on the Severn Crossings, and if anything that situation is worsening. It is a huge disappointment that the Crossings have accumulated a huge and apparently unforeseen debt which now risks delaying the badly needed reduction in toll levels. We will continue to closely monitor this situation and push for a solution that will serve the Welsh people and Welsh economy.
"The M4 route into Wales more generally has suffered from under-investment for far too long and the two Governments must urgently find the funding for the essential improvements that we need on this key strategic road."