Welsh government unveils final report on roads review panel

ACE head of policy Guto Davies explores impact of the Welsh government roads review.

ACE head of policy Guto Davies explores the impact of the Welsh government roads review on policy making, and what the future might hold for engineering consultants and the supply chain in 2023.

Lee Waters, deputy minister for climate change in Wales, has delivered his much anticipated statement to the Senedd on the Roads Review and National Transport Delivery Plan. The review was initially announced back in June 2021. 

The roads review (the first of its kind in over a decade) is an important opportunity to take a fresh look at the current state of Wales’ road infrastructure and to identify areas for improvement. 

The minister’s statement provides the political narrative, but the detail should be provided in the accompanying documents. 

From the outset, it is important to highlight that the review report is an independent document. The NTDP is also perhaps where most interest will be in the short term. 

Many of the recommendations in the review will be welcomed by industry, whilst others lack detail. But ultimately, it will be in the gift of government to decide which elements survive the cut.

At a time when the world is grappling with a climate and nature emergency, it is important to stress-test our future infrastructure investments to ensure that they encourage green growth. This is precisely what the Welsh government's road review aims to achieve. 

So my response is not on the merits or otherwise of investing in new and improved roads. Or even the need for a review in the first place. We respect the right of any government to undertake such important reviews, and support the overarching aim of trying to ensure the network (which is vitally important to all parts of Wales) meets future needs. 

My focus is now on how government goes about practically implementing its ambitions, and bringing with it the very supply chain that will help deliver it. 

A series of new ‘tests’ and ‘conditions’ have been announced, which all schemes will need to meet in order to proceed. These tests cover a broad range of criteria, including:

  • Avoidance of action which leads to increases in carbon emissions.
  • Reallocation of existing road space to achieve modal shift.
  • Adaptation of existing road infrastructure.
  • Investment which maintains safety and serviceability.
  • Improvement of biodiversity

What the new ‘tests’ do differently to existing guidance such as PAS2080 is yet to be explored, but the government will need to urgently collaborate with key stakeholders to ensure all guidance impacting day-to-day delivery align. 

It is well recognised across the UK and within industry, that Wales has a good appraisal mechanism through WelTAG. 

Many ACE members already have similar tests and principles as part of their approach to road schemes, including: 

  • Does it represent value for money? 
  • What is its value for carbon? 
  • What is its social value impact? 
  • What is the impact on resilience? 
  • What is its impact on nature and biodiversity?

The above are just a few examples of where and how the sector does and has responded to the needs to society and its clients. 

Too often during the debate on roads, the sector has been seen as part of the problem rather than the solution. This needs to change. 

A new set of guidance, whilst welcome, is nothing more than a piece of paper unless it is implemented in collaboration with industry. 

ACE members are already working on projects driving modal shift, carbon reduction, renewable energy, sustainable homes to name but a few in Wales, nationally and indeed globally. This review will impact my members immensely. They have the expertise and practical experience to make Wales a low carbon, sustainable and Future Ready place.

Critically, the review recognises the importance of providing “long-term certainty of investment to enable the supply chain to gear themselves to serve it.”. The review is absolutely right to highlight certainty of funding, and policy priorities. But perhaps, most importantly, is the certainty of a pipeline. 

The soon to be released ACE Wales Manifesto (which coincides with the ACEs UK Manifesto published earlier this year) calls on government to publish a clear pipeline of infrastructure projects to provide clarity for the industry in relation to future planning and the delivery of infrastructure.

So I am, of course, very pleased to see a clear recommendation for Government and Transport for Wales to publish details of the anticipated pipeline of work to deliver Wales’ sustainable transport network. 

Annex 2 in the Transport Delivery Plan is a start, but the market will need a more comprehensive annual pipeline. 

The government could look to examples of how this is done elsewhere in the UK with industry. ACE will play its part in this important next step, to support the development of skills and resources within the supply chain and to go on this journey collaboratively with its client base. 

As we move towards the critical stage of implementation, focus now turns onto some of the unanswered questions on governance, and what impact this might have on the supply chain and relationships with clients. Crucially, what budget is available, how these opportunities come to market, and how we go about ensuring transparency on the funding mechanisms?

ACE and its members look forward to working constructively with government and others moving forward. 

Guto Davies is head of policy at the Association for Consultancy and Engineering.

If you would like to contact Rob O’Connor about this, or any other story, please email roconnor@infrastructure-intelligence.com.