7. Welsh Conservatives Debate: Chepstow bypass

– in the Senedd at on 19 June 2024.

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(Translated)

The following amendments have been selected: amendment 1 in the name of Jane Hutt, and amendment 2 in the name of Heledd Fychan. If amendment 1 is agreed, amendment 2 will be deselected.

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 4:05, 19 June 2024

(Translated)

So, we will move on to item 7, the first Welsh Conservatives debate today, on the Chepstow bypass. I call on Natasha Asghar to move the motion.

(Translated)

Motion NDM8618 Darren Millar

To propose that the Senedd:

1. Recognises the benefits of bypasses in supporting local economies and easing congestion.

2. Welcomes the UK Government’s commitment to provide funding to Monmouthshire County Council to develop plans for a Chepstow bypass.

3. Calls on the Welsh Government to work with the UK Government, Monmouthshire County Council and Gloucestershire County Council to deliver a Chepstow bypass.

(Translated)

Motion moved.

Photo of Natasha Asghar Natasha Asghar Conservative 4:05, 19 June 2024

Thank you so much, Deputy Presiding Officer. I welcome the opportunity to open this debate and move the motion tabled in the name of my colleague Darren Millar. Far too many communities across Wales are forced to suffer with heavily congested roads and crumbling road networks on a daily basis. Today's debate focuses on Chepstow in my region of South Wales East, where poor roads and ever-increasingly clogged routes are issues affecting many communities.

We all know that congestion can lead to huge economic, social and environmental cost. Yet, unfortunately, it does seem that the Labour Government here in Cardiff Bay continuously fails to tackle the issue. Instead, from a public viewpoint, they would much rather roll out costly 20 mph speed limits, put the brakes on new road building, and pursue road-charging plans, instead of rolling up their sleeves and coming up with some serious solutions.

One way of solving Chepstow's nightmare would be to build a very much-needed bypass—something that the Welsh Conservatives have long been calling for. There are, undoubtedly, massive benefits that bypasses can bring communities, by boosting local economies and, of course, by ultimately easing congestion. And it is incredibly disappointing that the Welsh Government hasn't done more to make this a reality over the past 25 years.

Gloucestershire County Council has earmarked £500,000 in its budget to help the infrastructure project over the line, yet it appears that Labour-run Monmouthshire council has sadly failed to put its hand in its pocket. Previously, under the fantastic leadership of my colleague Peter Fox, and also followed by Richard John, Monmouthshire council had thrown its backing behind the scheme. In fact, there was an agreement between Monmouthshire and Gloucestershire councils back in 2022 to advance the bypass plans.

But sadly, since Labour took over Monmouthshire council, there has been very little movement. But then again, should we really be surprised? All we know is that the Labour Party does, unfortunately, loathe drivers. Thankfully, the Conservative Party, which is firmly on the side of drivers, unlike Labour, has committed to giving Monmouthshire council the funding to develop plans for the bypass.

This bypass is absolutely essential when it comes to removing congestion, and it will allow people to cut down their commuting time, instead of being constantly stuck in traffic. Part of the A48 in Chepstow, which includes Hardwick Hill, is one of the two areas in the country that has exceeded the nitrogen dioxide objective levels in the past. So, not only would a bypass alleviate the horrendous traffic situation, but it would also go a long way in helping improve air quality in the area, which is something that we undoubtedly all want to see, regardless of our party.

Reports of lengthy tailbacks and heavy traffic on the M48 Severn bridge in Chepstow have, unfortunately, become commonplace. And with more houses being built in the area, our roads will undoubtedly be placed under an extra burden. There is widespread support for a bypass, not only here in Wales but across the border, where motorists are often stuck in traffic jams leaving the Forest of Dean. People living in areas such as Lydney, Sedbury and Alvington can all see the benefits of a Chepstow bypass.

It would appear as though everyone can see the benefits of this bypass apart from Labour, and that can be seen from the amendments tabled by the parties here today in the Welsh Parliament. That, I would argue, shows the stark differences between our parties. We want to help drivers, whilst recognising the economic, social and practical benefits an efficient road network would bring to Wales. Unfortunately, Labour simply wants to force people out of their cars and onto public transport by making motorists’ lives as difficult as possible.

The situation in Chepstow has gone on for far too long, and decisive action must be taken sooner rather than later. Chepstow needs and deserves a bypass. The will to make this happen is there in certain quarters. I certainly can’t deny it. But we need absolutely everyone to be on board and work together to build this incredibly important piece of infrastructure. I really hope that Members across the Chamber here will support our unamended motion this afternoon, and I look forward to hearing all of the contributions in this debate today. Thank you so much.

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 4:09, 19 June 2024

(Translated)

I have selected the two amendments to the motion. If amendment 1 is agreed, amendment 2 will be deselected. I call on the Cabinet Secretary for North Wales and Transport to move formally amendment 1, tabled in the name of Jane Hutt.

(Translated)

Amendment 1—Jane Hutt

Delete all and replace with:

To propose that the Senedd:

1. Recognises the issues with congestion in Chepstow.

2. Recognises the need for an integrated, attractive and sustainable transport network which supports growth in the area.

3. Supports the Welsh Government's approach of working in partnership with Transport for Wales, Monmouthshire County Council and Gloucestershire County Council to consider options to improve the road network, public transport provision and active travel provision to improve travel in Chepstow.

(Translated)

Amendment 1 moved.

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour

(Translated)

And I call on Peredur Owen Griffiths to move amendment 2, tabled in the name of Heledd Fychan.

(Translated)

Amendment NDM8618-2 Heledd Fychan

Delete points 2 and 3 and replace with:

Believes that infrastructural developments should be undertaken in full consultation with communities and in line with communities’ stated needs.

Calls on the Welsh Government to work to deliver new infrastructure to ease congestion in line with these principles, including in delivering a third Menai crossing, and bypasses in Llandeilo and Chepstow.

Calls on the next UK Government to deliver a fair funding settlement for Wales, and the £4 billion in consequentials owed to Wales from HS2, to provide the funding needed to improve transport infrastructure and road infrastructure in Wales to ease congestion.

(Translated)

Amendment 2 moved.

Photo of Peredur Owen Griffiths Peredur Owen Griffiths Plaid Cymru

We have proposed amendments to the motion to try and encompass some of the wider issues in Wales's transport network. Our amendments also seek to address the barriers preventing local communities from making their own transport decisions. The transport infrastructure in Wales has been historically and systematically underfunded. Wales needs significant investment in transport infrastructure, but these upgrades require community involvement and a fair funding settlement for Wales. Westminster is denying Wales potentially over £4 billion in our fair share of real funding. Both Tories and Labour refuse to commit to giving Wales its fair share after the next general election, but Plaid Cymru's vision is for a Wales where communities are connected, north to south, east to west, through an integrated, accessible and affordable public transport network. We would use the billions we are owed to invest in a green, accessible and affordable public transport network to connect our communities, invest in our local economies and protect our environment.

We recognise the calls for a bypass in Chepstow. We also have concerns about congestion in Llandeilo and on the Menai crossings. Infrastructure projects must be more than just top-down decisions, they need to reflect the voices and needs of the communities that they intend to serve. The Menai crossing doesn't only serve the 70,000 residents of Ynys Môn, but is a key link from local to continental and global. All this should be taken into account when making infrastructure decisions. This Labour Government's current focus on modal shift alone is not enough to address this.

The Federation of Small Businesses have noted that, when transport systems are efficient, they provide economic and social opportunities and benefits. This results in positive multiplier effects, such as better accessibility to markets, employment and additional investments. Currently, in Chepstow and Llandeilo, air quality is being compromised, affecting people's health and well-being. When there are roadworks in Llandeilo, heavy goods vehicles already go on inappropriate roads, which is dangerous and doesn't align with the Welsh Government's current 20 mph policy promoting road safety. Perhaps if Labour or the Conservatives demanded fair funding for Wales's transport network, and the devolution of rail infrastructure, then we would be able to invest in these vital community transport projects ourselves. By involving our communities and securing fair funding, we can create infrastructure that not only meets present demand, but also paves the way for a prosperous and sustainable future. Diolch yn fawr.

Photo of Peter Fox Peter Fox Conservative 4:12, 19 June 2024

I welcome this debate today because it gives another opportunity to shine a light on this serious problem in south-east Wales. Now, as many of you know, Chepstow sits at the gateway into Wales, but also a gateway for thousands of English commuters a day passing through Chepstow from Gloucestershire, via the A48, out of Wales, to access the motorway network. The density of traffic has increased massively over the last couple of years, and it's set to rise significantly as we see more and more housing developments completed and others being considered and taken forward across the border in the Forest of Dean and wider Gloucestershire. These huge volumes of traffic have to climb up the renowned Hardwick Hill through the town, and pollution monitoring equipment, as Natasha said, has been located there for many years, and shows consistently that the A48 at Hardwick Hill is one of the most polluted areas on the Welsh road network. This is having an extremely negative impact on the communities that this road runs through.

The congestion is added to by our own housing developments from along the Severnside corridor, stretching from Newport through to Portskewett, and, as a result, we see the A48 heading east through Pwllmeyric brought to a standstill most days, as traffic from all directions have to negotiate the Larkfield roundabout. So, we have this perfect storm of traffic issues in the area, but this can't be mitigated, as we have poor and undeveloped public transport in the area, and no infrastructural provision to enable people to reduce travel by car. 

Monmouthshire County Council, under previous control, started to consider long-term solutions and opportunities to do something to deal with this very real and growing problem. We engaged with the Forest of Dean and Gloucestershire and started conversations with the UK Government and Welsh Government. Much work had gone on into looking for solutions for the area, and I thank the Welsh Government of that time for its support of the Chepstow transport study, exploring options, including a potential bypass, which is widely felt to be the only real option to address things and allow Chepstow to thrive. 

This is not a new concept, but one that has been spoken about for decades. It is totally achievable and, indeed, developments over the years have been cognisant of its potential emergence. The transport study has been taken forward in line with the Welsh transport appraisal guidance process, which we know as WelTAG, and it has been followed, and two options for a bypass were considered at the WelTAG 2 stage, with a low-carbon option coming forward as a real solution that could be worked up as part of WelTAG 3, which requires a business case to be developed.

Now, sadly, we know the recent history, with Welsh Government putting a hold on road building schemes and the new Labour-run Monmouthshire council, who halted their work on it and poured cold water, sadly, on the progress of this scheme. However, we now have another chance to bring forward this, with the current UK Government committed to providing funding for Monmouthshire County Council to develop plans further for this much-needed bypass.

So, we now need Welsh Government to step back up to the plate and come back to the table and work with all stakeholders, including UK Government, Monmouthshire County Council, Forest of Dean and Gloucestershire, to make the bypass a reality. Please don't bury your heads in the sand on this; it's too important an issue. I encourage colleagues here to support our motion.

Photo of John Griffiths John Griffiths Labour 4:16, 19 June 2024

This is an obvious and transparent Conservative ploy to try and shore up what little support they have left in the Monmouth constituency ahead of the general election. An Arup review of the proposed bypass found 90 per cent of those likely to use it live in Gloucestershire, and therefore 90 per cent of the costs should fall on UK Government. Pre COVID, Arup estimated the cost at £150 million, and it's likely that those construction costs have increased by at least 50 per cent since then, and the actual cost would now be probably around £0.25 billion. And there's absolutely no evidence that the UK Government actually believes this would be value for money for possibly 30,000 Gloucestershire residents, and that's why I say this is an obvious and transparent election ploy.

And it seems quite likely as well, Dirprwy Lywydd, that the effect of such a bypass would be to shift congestion at the High Beech roundabout to the roundabout at Junction 2 of the M48. So, much better, then, to look at solutions to these problems, Dirprwy Lywydd, that are actually achievable and would have the effect that's required.

We know that things are improving in some ways. We have better train frequency now, thanks to Transport for Wales. There will be two trains an hour from Chepstow during most hours of the day, and we know that we need a more integrated service through the Severn tunnel junction to Bristol from Chepstow, and hopefully that will be developed as well, because there's a lot of recognition of the benefits that would bring. We need improvement at the High Beech roundabout, and this is something the Welsh Government is considering, and I hope very much that there might be an announcement before too long. And of course we need to divert traffic away from Caldicot to Chepstow, so that traffic that comes to Chepstow from Caldicot could quite easily be diverted, for example by a link road from the B4245 at Rogiet through to the M48. This is a proposal that has support from Monmouthshire County Council and also from the local councillors representing that area.

So, it's not as if there aren't potential solutions to ease these problems, Dirprwy Lywydd, but they must be achievable and they must be around integrated transport, which we know is the way forward for our transport problems here in Wales. That's why I support the Welsh Government's approach of working in partnership with Transport for Wales, Monmouthshire County Council and Gloucestershire County Council to consider options to improve the road network, to improve public transport provision and also, of course, active travel provision in and around Chepstow. That is the right way forward, the achievable way forward, and that, I believe, has a lot of local support. Diolch yn fawr.

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 4:19, 19 June 2024

(Translated)

I call on the Cabinet Secretary for North Wales and Transport, Ken Skates. 

Photo of Ken Skates Ken Skates Labour 4:20, 19 June 2024

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd, and I'd like to begin by thanking the Conservatives for bringing forward this debate today. I know the idea of a bypass for Chepstow has been circulated for many years—indeed, it predates devolution—and I've listened with great interest to Members' arguments for a Chepstow bypass. Let me say firstly I do recognise the transport issues in Chepstow and the impact that they're having on the daily lives of those living in and travelling through Chepstow.

Earlier this year, Members will be aware that the Welsh Government carried out a review of transport issues at High Beech roundabout, which John Griffiths has referred to, and that we worked with Monmouthshire County Council and with Transport for Wales on that review. And it concluded that there is a strong case for change to improve travel in the area. It further recognised that there is a lack of effective public transport in the area, meaning that people don't often have an alternative to the private car. And recent developments in Gloucestershire are also increasing journeys through the area, and they're likely to continue to do so. I think all Members in the Chamber today have acknowledged that. Both of these factors contribute to delays and queuing at High Beech roundabout in peak periods, and the congestion creates issues with noise and air quality, and it affects people's journey times as well. Addressing these problems is also important to enable future residential developments in Monmouthshire. 

Now, the motion tabled by Darren Millar focuses on a Chepstow bypass as a solution to these problems and I recognise that, in some cases, bypasses can and do provide the best solution to improve transport in the area. Now, whether that is the case depends on local circumstances and the evidence about the impact it would have on journeys and on emissions. To deliver solutions that will address the issues now and in the long term, Chepstow needs an integrated, attractive and sustainable transport system, and this means taking a more holistic approach to considering transport in the area, and we need to consider changes in the strategic road network, whether that be a bypass or changes to High Beech roundabout, alongside improvements to public transport. 

So, we'll provide funding to Transport for Wales this year to take forward a study into the issues in Chepstow and to identify measures to improve transport in and around the town. This work will take place in partnership with Monmouthshire County Council and, indeed, in partnership with Gloucestershire County Council over the summer months. And ahead of this work, we're already making improvements to transport in the area. Just as John Griffiths has identified today, Transport for Wales now has introduced an additional 12 services a day between Cardiff and Cheltenham, providing an hourly service on the route. And the service is being operated using brand-new class 197 trains, providing passengers with a hugely improved experience.

More widely, we've awarded £8.4 million to transport projects in Monmouthshire in this current financial year, including investments in bus infrastructure and, indeed, improvements to the A4136. And longer term, the south-east Wales corporate joint committee are currently developing a regional transport plan, which will take a strategic approach to improving transport across south-east Wales. And here I have to make perhaps the most important point: that decisions over transport should be made at the most appropriate level, and that collaboration across borders and across administrative boundaries is absolutely vital. 

That's why we're striving, through creating corporate joint committees and in devolving decision making on funding, to get the decisions that are right for local areas made by the representatives of those local areas. I look forward to reporting on progress in easing congestion in Chepstow, and I hope that you'll feel able to support our amendment today. 

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 4:24, 19 June 2024

(Translated)

I call on Tom Giffard to reply to the debate. 

Photo of Tom Giffard Tom Giffard Conservative

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Dirprwy Lywydd, and can I thank everybody that participated in the debate today? We know that the issue of the need for a bypass in Chepstow has been a long-standing issue for a long time, and can I pay particular tribute I think to Peter Fox for the amount of work he's done both in this Chamber and previously as the leader of Monmouthshire council? We heard about that important work that was happening not just with Monmouthshire council, but in collaboration with Gloucestershire County Council, to take this project forward. I also know councillors in the Chepstow area, such as Christopher Edwards, Paul Pavia and Louise Brown, have been really been working hard on behalf of constituents in that area as well. Can I also pay tribute as well—we talked about Monmouthshire County Council—to Richard John, who succeeded you, and I know he was taking that plan forward? Now, these plans, unfortunately, have ground to a halt, with the election of a Labour council in Monmouthshire. Like the road itself, it is going nowhere.

So, can I turn to some of the contributions, then? We heard from Natasha Asghar in particular that this is important not just for people in Chepstow, but actually, about the economic viability of south-east Wales and the south-west of England becoming an economic hub as well. Air quality was another issue that was mentioned by Peredur Owen Griffiths, and I was glad he mentioned it, because Hardwick Hill is one of only two areas in the county that have exceeded the nitrogen dioxide objective level. So, it is a real, real issue there in that specific part of Chepstow.

Can I thank John Griffiths as well for his inspirational speech, where he told us that everything was wonderful in Chepstow? I don't think local people would necessarily agree with that. What he called for were solutions that were actually achievable, but we've already heard that these proposals are achievable: this bypass is achievable, it was being delivered by a Conservative-led Monmouthshire County Council, and has ground to a halt with the election of a Labour one. And let me read to you, John, what Monmouthshire County Council themselves said in 2011, because you mentioned specifically about emissions: 'A bypass', quote,

'would significantly improve air quality within the AQMA and would also improve safety and living conditions for those living' along the bypass route. So, I think it's important to acknowledge it ticks every box, if you like, of what John Griffiths was saying; the obvious answer here is a bypass.

And finally, can I—

Photo of Andrew RT Davies Andrew RT Davies Conservative

Would the Member agree with me that it's vitally important that the incumbent Member of Parliament, David T.C. Davies, is returned after this election, so that Chepstow doesn't grind to a halt, after the rhetoric we've heard from the Labour side, and David can go on championing the bypass for Chepstow, so that Chepstow can get the break it needs from the stranglehold of the Labour decline of Monmouthshire County Council?

Photo of Tom Giffard Tom Giffard Conservative

Can I thank Andrew R.T. Davies? I was working to that; that was my big crescendo.

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour

Can I remind all Members we are not electoral broadcasts here; we are here to debate the issue of the Chepstow bypass, and it's important we discuss those issues?

Photo of Tom Giffard Tom Giffard Conservative 4:28, 19 June 2024

It is. It is absolutely important. Therefore, can I thank the Minister, or the Cabinet Secretary, Ken Skates for his buzzword response? We heard about committees, meetings, collaboration, but the answer's clear: we just need a bypass in Chepstow. And I don't think Chepstow residents will be necessarily reassured listening to the contribution from the Cabinet Secretary today, and the lack of seriousness from the Labour Party to take this issue forward, to drive Chepstow forward. And I hope they will reflect on the decision that they will have to make in just two and a half weeks' time between a Labour candidate who is determined to grind Chepstow to a halt, or David T.C. Davies, who will keep Chepstow moving.

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour

(Translated)

The proposal is to agree the motion without amendment. Does any Member object? [Objection.] Yes. I will therefore defer voting under this item until voting time.

(Translated)

Voting deferred until voting time.