'Strong east-west focus' in Labour's new transport plan

Improvements to east-west links will be the main focus of the Welsh government's new transport plan.

Transport Minister Carl Sargeant said policy would be geared towards tackling poverty and growing the economy.

It comes as the government is grappling with big cuts to its infrastructure budget which could mean difficult decisions over some projects.

Plaid Cymru said little of the plan was new and it was worried about delays to projects.

The Conservatives said there were "glaring omissions" to the plan and attacked a "lack of vision for the M4".

'Economic benefit'

Mr Sargeant said: "People will be able to understand from the plan exactly when we expect to deliver these.

"This is about making sure we can get economic benefits from a transport system that's fit for purpose."

The plans have been drawn up after listening to the needs of the business community, he said.

"We are focussing strongly on east-west connectivity in north, mid and south Wales and they (businesses) are saying to us that's exactly the right place to be."

Mr Sargeant said a transport plan published by the previous Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition government in March last year "was just a list of schemes". The programme of priorities he unveiled on Wednesday "sets out what programmes will be delivered when", he said.

"There are many schemes in the process that have been taken back, but of course there's a lot more that have been brought forward," he said

Officials said examples of prioritised work included:

  • Safety improvements on the A465 Heads of the Valleys road between Hirwaun and Dowlais Top, including variable speed limits and safety cameras.
  • The government will submit a business case for electrification of the Valley Lines railways.
  • There will be improvements to the A470 Abercynon roundabout, easing peak-time congestion and improve access to Abercynon.
  • Variable speed limits and cameras on the Britannia Bridge over the Menai Strait to Anglesey.

However, improvements to the A470 at Rhayader will not happen before 2015.

A proposal to increase the capacity of the air-link between Cardiff and Anglesey has been put on hold, but the government will continue to subsidise the flights.

Plaid AM Rhodri Glyn Thomas said there did not appear to be anything new in Mr Sargeant's plans.

"It appears that there are a number of projects being pushed back and that causes us concern because since May no project has been started from new by this government," he said.

Despite the government talking about the emphasis on east-west links, "there is nothing obvious in this statement that justifies that".

Tory shadow transport minister Byron Davies said: "I am astounded at the lack of any vision for the M4.

"While ongoing commitments may be acknowledged, this cannot be a comprehensive strategy that talks of east-west routes and economic growth when it fails to properly deal with our only motorway."

'No fancy schemes'

Flintshire councillor Tony Sharps, who is chair of the north Wales transport board Taith, said: "I've been sitting on a working group meeting with Carl Sargeant.

"The one thing that has come through very clear is the budget is going to be a reduced budget so there's going to be no big shiny bridges and no fancy schemes."

Before the announcement, Stuart Cole, professor of transport at the University of Glamorgan, said east-west should be the priority during a period of tight spending.

He said: "The original plan two years ago was very much aimed at the internal linkages. They are good objectives but when you are short of money and need to get jobs, then east-west becomes the priority."

He added: "What they're having to do is look at low-cost ways of dealing with certain localised problems that, in total, do help the overall picture."

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