Sticking with One Wales commitments on road improvements

Earlier this week, the Western Mail carried a story by David Williamson which was ostensibly about forcing Ieuan Wyn Jones, whose responsibilities include transport, to publish the advice he was given when he formulated the new road building/improvement strategy last year.

In essence the new strategy revised the previous priorities for road building in Wales. It moved up eight improvement schemes for north-south links, and it moved down six improvement for east-west routes. The question being asked was why IWJ chose to do this.

Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones may be forced to reveal the advice he was given to formulate his road-building strategy.

Mr Jones’ changes to the priorities of the Assembly Government’s road-building programme have been controversial. The CBI business organisation warned in a statement on May 7 that: “From an economic perspective, the 2008 reprioritisation of the trunk road forward programme (moving up eight North-South schemes and moving down six East-West schemes) is a step in the wrong direction. We believe the Deputy First Minister is mistaken in making the top priority of this new programme to ‘provide better links between strategic centres of population.’

“Faced with a global economic recession, the need to invest in roads that will deliver an economic dividend is more important than ever. Redirecting finite road building resources to connecting communities within Wales—instead of improving economically vital east-west road links—will see our infrastructure punching below its economic weight.”

... Labour’s Mr Lewis said: “We can’t get an answer from the minister as to why he has done this ... He has upended the Assembly Government trunk road programme.”

Western Mail, 2 June 2009

Now of course I can fully understand that people will have different opinions on which projects should be given priority. Very clearly the CBI disagrees with the new priorities, and they're quite entitled to.

But Huw Lewis is an entirely different case.


Instead of just disagreeing (which is perfectly reasonable) he tries to make out that he has no idea whatsoever about why the Welsh Government has changed the old priorities. He has even made a couple of posts on the subject in his blog recently, here and here. In the second he claims that:

It is this report which has apparently led to a huge reshaping and reorganisation of WAG's road building policy.

This made me smile, because he has now shifted from feigned ignorance about why the decision was made, to trying to plant the suggestion that it was this advice that led to the change of priority. Sneaky.

The answer is very simple ... and one that I'm sure Huw Lewis is very well aware of. However if he still claims ignorance all he needs to do is remind himself of what it says in the One Wales Agreement:

• We envisage a Wales where travelling between communities in different parts of Wales is both easy and sustainable. We are firmly committed to creating better transport links, both road and rail, between the North and the West of Wales and the South.

• We will develop and implement a programme for improved North-South links, including travel by road and rail.

• We will press ahead with improvements to major road links between the North, the West and the South of Wales, investing over £50 million for this purpose over the four year Assembly term.

One Wales Agreement, 27 June 2007

If you read through the whole document you will see there is no specific mention of other road schemes in the OWA. So the simple fact is that the Labour Party and Plaid Cymru agreed to make improving north-south links the main road transport priority. This, by definition, must mean "re-prioritizing" the previous administration's road programme.


Now it's no secret that Huw wasn't too pleased about the One Wales Agreement, and that is probably why he doesn't hold any ministerial position in the One Wales Government. Sticking with your principles is something that should be commended. And as the local AM of course he should be concerned about the stretch of road that passes through his own patch. That too is commendable ... although there are 59 other AMs who have just as much right to be concerned about the roads that serve all the other parts of Wales.

But what is very definitely not commendable is trying to blame Ieuan Wyn Jones for going ahead and delivering on the agreed One Wales programme of government ... especially by trying to pretend that what prompted the re-prioritization was some advisory report. That is cheap and disingenuous.


Politics is about making decisions ... tough decisions. In my opinion one of the most disturbing trends in politics over the past decade or so is for politicians to use so-called expert advice as a way of distancing themselves from the decision making process; conveniently hiding the fact that the terms of reference which they set for such reports usually pre-determine what the resulting advice will be. It seems to me to be a very New Labour trait.

Improving north-south road links is a political decision. A black-and-white commitment that both Plaid Cymru and the Labour Party signed up to when they came into coalition.

Plaid are simply sticking with that agreement. As I said in response to Huw on his blog:

I'm sure you wouldn't want to be seen to be undermining or reneging on your own party's commitments, Huw. Is delivering on commitments so hard a principle for you to understand?

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Adam Higgitt said...

It's an interesting argument. The only problem is that it does not seem to be the one being advanced by IWJ.

If, as you suggest, the decision is political (i.e rooted in the OWA rather than the advisory report) then why appear to stall on publication of the report? Publish it, and if it does not support the re-prioritisation then, as you do, point to the OWA.

DaiTwp said...

The road links between Penarth and Merthyr are pretty good - so Huw should be happy enough anyway.

The idea that improving the heads of the valleys raod is somehow going to bring in investment into the area is complete nonsense. It has already been done from the east up to Dowlais top as it is. So if there were to be any investment coming in from improved links, that should have done it.

I use the unimproved section between the Neath bypass (A465) and Dowlais as much as anyone and although I would say that it is a very poor design (which has lead to accidents in the past) there is no way that improving this section of the road would bring with it any extra jobs/investment as is often implied in what Huw Lewis says.

ex-labour boyo said...

The other obvious argument is that Huw Lewis is a vain tribalist self=promoter who wants to be elected welsh Labour leader and pretends he's the hero of the valleys while living in Penarth.
That's the argument I advance. Adam - over to you for the refutation...
And er.. why is a road political? Because it benefots north Walians? Oh my god... it's a political decision ! It invilves somewhere other than south wales. Those Nat bastards! Sack them, replace them with those ultr-efficient fantastic Labour peopel who've helpled Wales so much over the last 12 years, helping Wales be ... e poorest, illest and worst off place in the UK.
Yes, that's right: vote Labour, because that's not 'political'.
Bollocks, butt, bollocks.

Anonymous said...

My view is that living in Penarth while claiming, with your wife who also lives in Penarth, a double housing allowance, is a political decision.
Huw, or Matt , or any of your taxpayer-funded letter-writing/emailng/anon-comment-leaving emplyeees please reply.

Adam Higgitt said...

That's the argument I advance. Adam - over to you for the refutation...

That's not an argument, it's ad hominem rhetoric.

And er.. why is a road political?

The notion that the re-prioritisation was political was advanced by the author of the article, not me. S/he suggests that the decision is fulfillment of those relevant parts of the OWA quoted above.

If so, why is IWJ not saying so? And why decline to publish the advisory report, since it does not appear to be material to the decision one way or the other?

MH said...

One reason for writing was to suggest that IWJ should use this argument, Adam.

I quite admired the Edwina Hart approach (for example over her decision on neurosurgery) saying that as minister, it's for her to make the decision. As an aside, I suggest that's why she would make a better leader for Labour in Wales than Huw. But that is a matter for the Labour Party, not political opponents such as myself, to decide.


As for the A465 itself, I wasn't aiming to make any comment on the merits of the dualling scheme versus other schemes for other roads. That is a matter on which there will be perfectly proper differences of opinion. However there are plans to dual all of it and, according to Leighton Andrews (in plenary last week) the commitment to dual the remaining sections is still there as part of the Turning Heads regeneration. It is still on the list, but it is no longer top priority.

My view is that there is probably not much wrong with it in capacity terms (and therefore that the economic regeneration argument is being over-stressed) but that the original three lane scheme was badly conceived and, as a result, has more accidents than it should. However those accidents can be reduced by less expensive means than dualling.


I don't want to comment on Huw Lewis' expenses. It was a post about his less than straightforward political statements on the road programme.

Adam Higgitt said...

I quite agree with you about politicians taking the decisions and not hiding behind independent panels, experts and advisory committees. In some ways it's unfortunate that the WAG has set itself up to be "evidence based"; not because evidence is a bad basis for decisions, but because it induces the sort of behaviour above.

Nonetheless, I think there is fault on both sides. If HL is wrong (or even disingenuous, which I'd dispute) to point to the advisory report than IWJ is at fault for not disabusing him (and, let's not forget the Finance Committee also) of such a notion.



Anonymous said...

Well, it was a manifesto commitment. I know it's hard for Labour politicians to grasp that manifesto commitments are best implemented (rather than ignored, failed or wriggled out of), but there you go.
Huw, being no stranger to 'political' decisions himself (such as his endless self-promotion at the expenses - geddit!?- of his constituents) should surely grasp that.
I agree however that IWJ should stand up and be counted. He's short on backbone.

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