The Heads of the Valleys Road

1. Questions to the First Minister – in the Senedd at on 20 February 2024.

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Photo of Vikki Howells Vikki Howells Labour

(Translated)

4. Will the First Minister provide an update on the dualling of sections 5 and 6 of the A465 Heads of the Valleys road? OQ60716

Photo of Mark Drakeford Mark Drakeford Labour 2:06, 20 February 2024

I thank Vikki Howells for that, Llywydd. Work on dualling sections 5 and 6 of the Heads of the Valleys road is currently three years into its construction period. Despite the project starting during the height of the COVID pandemic, good progress has been maintained and the scheduled and anticipated completion is due in the summer of 2025.

Photo of Vikki Howells Vikki Howells Labour

First Minister, it was a pleasure to visit with you and Dawn Bowden to see the ongoing construction works on sections 5 and 6 of the Heads of the Valleys road last week. I'm sure, like me, you'd want to thank Future Valleys Construction and their partners for hosting us and giving us a very informative tour. It was good to hear about the economic, environmental and community benefits that the project is already delivering, but how is Welsh Government working to ensure that these approaches are embedded to deliver lasting improvements for the Cynon Valley and the surrounding areas?

Photo of Mark Drakeford Mark Drakeford Labour 2:07, 20 February 2024

Well, I thank Vikki Howells for that and for the invitation she made on the floor of the Senedd to make that visit, which I thoroughly enjoyed, together with the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney. It followed an earlier visit that I'd made with Alun Davies to a different part of the road, and while we made our visit, it was the words that the Member for Blaenau Gwent often uses on the floor of the Senedd that were in my mind, that this is much more than a road, it is a series of really important economic opportunities for people who live in this part of Wales.

And the benefits that we saw in front of us last week, I think, absolutely are benefits that will last into the future: those active travel measures that will now be planned, the cycle routes that we saw, the separation of pedestrians from traffic, the fact that 120,000 trees will be planted as part of the work on sections 5 and 6. We were told about the 8,000 plants that were being specially brought on in order to safeguard the future of the marsh fritillary butterfly, as well as everything else we saw to make sure that biodiversity and lapwings and bats and dormice, and all the other things that are there now, will be there guaranteed for the future. And that's without all the investment that will last into the future: £105 million in the supply chain as a result of the work on the Heads of the Valleys road. Those will be companies that will be there to thrive into the future.

And to go back to the very first question I was asked this afternoon, we heard about and met apprentices, people who will have learned their skills over the decade of investment that this Welsh Government has made in that road, and we met and heard of people who started as level 2 apprentices in the early stage and who are now in charge of some very important parts of this construction. So, I think there will be a whole series of economic and environmental legacies that this scheme will provide for those communities well into the future.

Photo of Natasha Asghar Natasha Asghar Conservative 2:09, 20 February 2024

First Minister, you and I both know that I'm a huge supporter of having a strong transport infrastructure across Wales. However, in this instance, your Government has not failed to surprise me. On the one hand, the Welsh Government says that there's a climate emergency and bans all major road building as part of its anti-motorist agenda—[Interruption.]—and on the other hand, we see you, the deputy tourism Minister and Vikki Howells all smiling and posing at the Heads of the Valleys for a photo op, which you just mentioned—

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru 2:10, 20 February 2024

I can't hear the Member, sorry, and I'm not sure whether the First Minister can, so can the Member be heard in some silence, please?

Photo of Natasha Asghar Natasha Asghar Conservative

Thank you so much. Now, I must say, First Minister, I am personally really, really glad to see this anti-road building Government finally recognise the benefits of investing in these really important infrastructure projects—I truly am. However, I'm not sure the fact that this scheme, which is seriously over budget and massively behind schedule, is something to celebrate. So, First Minister, given that you're hailing the Heads of the Valleys road as a success story, can the people of Wales now expect to see this Government start building other important road infrastructures now as well? Thank you.

Photo of Mark Drakeford Mark Drakeford Labour

Well, it is a shame, Llywydd, that the Member's welcome for the scheme is shrouded in such a mist of misinformation. She's entirely wrong about the Government's approach to road building. She's entirely wrong about sections 5 and 6, which is being constructed under the mutual investment model, where the risks of cost overrun do not lie with the Government at all; they are entirely in the hands of the construction company, who has been contracted to build that part of the road. So, she can be sure that her concerns are ill-founded, and in future she will be able to celebrate the success of the road without surrounding it with a set of entirely erroneous anxieties.