Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Road Schemes for North of England and South Wales Welcomed by Freight Group

Infrastructure Studies All Very Well - But When Will the Work Start?
Shipping News Feature
UK – For an organisation whose members embrace every tranche of the commercial supply chain it would seem that the Freight Transport Association (FTA) has its eyes firmly on the roads of Britain of late. At the end of last month the FTA reacted strongly to the announcement that Highways England is to lead a £300,000 study into major improvements to road links between the M65 in East Lancashire and parts of Yorkshire with a rare pat on the back for the initiative.

This week attention has turned to Wales with a letter to all Welsh Assembly Members urging them to press the First Minister to approve the ‘Black Route’ plans for the M4 Relief Road. Construction of the route, according to FTA, would provide a regional economic boost worth hundreds of millions of pounds and ‘tackle the congestion that blights the lives of local citizens’.

Malcolm Bingham, Head of Policy for the North of England at the FTA pointed out that the Association has long called for improvements to road links between Lancashire and Yorkshire, continuing:

”Poor road connectivity has left many businesses unable to access vital markets and has hampered economic growth locally. FTA is pleased the government is launching this £300,000 study into road link improvements, which forms part of wider £13 billion project to improve transport across the North: a desperately needed investment that will greatly boost the economic prospects of Northern England.

“The logistics industry is the lifeblood of the UK economy and needs an efficient and effective road network to continue stocking Britain’s factories, retail outlets, schools, hospitals and homes with the raw materials and goods they need to continue operating efficiently. While this study is a great milestone, a nationwide road upgrade is desperately needed to empower businesses to trade without friction.”

Moving to the FTA position on the so called ‘Black Route’ Sally Gilson, Head of Welsh Policy at the FTA, said that writing to the Welsh Assembly Members to press the First Minster to approve plans for the infrastructure project was necessary as it was considered the best option for the Welsh economy and its citizens. She observed:

”Our members have consistently evidenced the urgent need to tackle the congestion issues along this vital stretch of infrastructure; after all these years debating, businesses in South Wales need to see some light at the end of the tunnel. The ‘Black Route’ would unlock hundreds of millions of private sector investment right across the South Wales economy; as per the Welsh Government’s own assessment, it will deliver £2 for every £1 invested.

It would also improve air quality around the Brynglas tunnels, while reducing congestion through Newport. The recent abolition of the Severn Bridge tolls has provided a much-needed economic boost, but the construction of the ‘Black Route’ is necessary for the road network to unlock its full potential. The M4 provides an important lifeline to businesses across south Wales and should not be considered solely as a local issue; urgent action based on the national importance of the route is vital.”

Under the plans being considered the current M4 would be diverted at Magor to follow the A4810 Eastern Distributor Road, before diverting away from it across the Caldicot and Wentloog Levels. The first junction would be located just south of the steelworks site to provide access to the Glan Llyn development site. This would be followed by a bridge over the River Usk, before another junction over the docks providing a link to the A48 Southern Distributor Road. The remainder of the route would cross the levels just south of Duffryn, before an interchange with the current M4 and A48(M) at Castleton.

The proposals are hardly a popular choice however, particularly amongst environmentalists who say the plans cut a swathe through 6 miles of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), and there have even been objections from Associated British Ports (ABP) which was naturally concerned at the commercial implications of a scheme which effectively bisected the dock area at the Port of Newport. However speaking today to the Handy Shipping Guide, Ralph Windeatt, Head of Commercial for ABP South Wales, said that after consulting with the Welsh government a mitigation package has resolved the situation and the scheme was now acceptable to the company as proposed.

Unfortunately nobody at the Welsh Government Department of Economy, Science and Transport was able to hazard a guess as to when an actual decision would be made for the scheme to go ahead or not. Originally work to complete the Motorway reconstruction was to finish in Autumn 2021, a date that looks ever more unlikely.