‘The cash isn’t there so we have to prioritise’: the Welsh government’s approach to transport infrastructure will be aimed at improving multi-modal transport beyond just private cars

Transport sector emissions are significant, and with future demand for travel set to increase alongside global population, can we rethink transportation in order to reduce our impact on the planet?
February 28, 2023

The Welsh government’s national transport plan splits opinion

Wales has abandoned all significant road construction projects due to environmental concerns. As a result, both the contentious "red route" in Flintshire and the proposed third Menai bridge will not be built. The action comes after a year-long evaluation and is a component of the Welsh government's National Transport Plan. Environmental activists praised the statement as "world-leading and bold," but some in the construction sector expressed concern that it might jeopardise jobs. It comes alongside accusations against the Welsh government of jeopardising bus services, as a senior minister recently highlighted that industry subsidies have not yet been determined beyond the summer.[i]

The Welsh government's strategy has drawn criticism from a former Labour minister for transportation. According to Ken Skates MS, the roads review halted the majority of road spending without putting up strategies for enhancing public transportation. There should never be another review that "ignores citizens", the backbencher argued. Prior ministers' opinions were "worth listening" to, according to Vaughan Gething, minister of the economy. Wales won't reach net-zero carbon emissions, according to Deputy Climate Change Minister Lee Waters, "unless we stop doing the same thing over and over".[ii] In defence of the strategy, Mr Waters emphasised the Burns Commission, which was established to identify replacement ideas for the M4 relief road near Newport that had been abandoned. Waters said:

"One of their proposals is turning an existing main road and having a bus corridor, an active travel corridor and a road corridor side-by-side,"

"So you're still building roads but you're building a road which is designed to do something different. It's designed to make it as easy - if not easier - to jump on a bus.”

He added, "So when you're making that decision, 'how do I get to work?', you don't automatically think I have to jump in the car, because I couldn't get there otherwise. That's the reality we have to shift."[iii]

The change of approach in the transport strategy justifies itself by outlining the decarbonisation goals for the transport sector.[iv]

The Net Zero Wales ambition statement for transportation focuses on three main areas of mitigation to reduce emissions:

  • Demand reduction and mode shift, with targets of 35% for 2025 and 39% for 2030 for trips taken by public transportation, walking, and cycling.
  • Technological options, such as transportation with minimal or no emissions.
  • Enhancements to conventional vehicles' fuel economy.[v]

With these goals in mind, the transport strategy provides a ranking of priorities for future investment in infrastructure.

Source: Welsh Government

The prioritisation of active travel (walking and cycling) infrastructure is an interesting development. The holistic benefits of active travel are growing in prominence, and ZCA has previously discussed the However, with regard to achieving that kind of behavioural change, there remains a chicken-and-egg dilemma, is behavioural change limited by stagnating infrastructure development, or is infrastructure development limited by stagnating behavioural change?

How we travel must change; will attitude shift with it?

Decarbonising transportation is a must if the climate crisis is to be prevented. 23% of the energy-related CO2 that contributes to global warming is emitted by transportation.  If nothing is done, by 2030, its percentage could rise to 40%. Over the past 50 years, transportation emissions have increased more quickly than from any other industry. In the ensuing decades, there will be a significant increase in demand for transportation. As a result, rather than decreasing, CO2 emissions from transportation activities may rise by 60% by 2050. And since 92% of the energy used in transportation comes from oil, decarbonising the sector is particularly challenging.[vi] The complexity of managing a transport sector that meets the demand of the future but reduces its impact on the planet whilst retaining the current shares of transport modes is substantial. To continue along the same road with continuing primary reliance on cars will not be enough to meet targets that will prevent catastrophic climate change, but the transition to a new way of travelling must include all and not leave populations feeling alienated.


[i] BBC- All major road building projects in Wales are scrapped

[ii] BBC- Welsh roads review ignored citizens, ex-Labour transport minister says

[iii] BBC- Wales roads: Minister Lee Waters wants no more big projects

[iv] Welsh Government- National Transport Delivery Plan 2022 to 2027

[v] Welsh Government- Net Zero Wales Carbon Budget 2 (2021-25)

[vi] International Transport Forum- Decarbonising Transport initiative

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Oscar Pusey
Research Analyst

Oscar is a recent graduate with a background in earth science. He is currently studying an MSc focussing on disaster responses, emergency planning and community resilience. His postgraduate research project will assess the link between climate crisis risk perception and attitudes to green energy projects. “Adapting to the climate crisis through the pursuit of net zero requires community engagement and understanding. Zero Carbon Academy’s goals closely align with this approach and I’m excited to have the opportunity to research and communicate a variety of topics relating to our environment and sustainability”.

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