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Planning transport fit for future generations

By Steve Brooks,
Group cycling near the busy M4 motorway

Transport investment would be far better spent on supporting walking and cycling if it is to secure the well-being of future generations

The passing of the landmark Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 is an ideal opportunity to position long-term planning above short-sighted policy approaches.

Far too often, planning approaches fail to take into account the full sweep of policy areas, leading to unintended consequences, and damaging interventions.

The first of the seven Well-being Goals in the Act, "A prosperous Wales", calls for: “An innovative, productive and low carbon society which recognises the limits of the global environment and therefore uses resources efficiently and proportionately (including acting on climate change)”. One of the biggest barriers to achieving this goal is the current transport system, and the tools we have at our disposal to develop a new one. It makes sense then, that if we want to build a nation fit for future generations, getting transport planning right should be one of our early priorities.

Transport investment decisions in Wales are taken partly on the basis of ‘WelTAG’, the Welsh transport planning and appraisal guidance. WelTAG has recently been subject to a review and consultation which will seek to overhaul the process.

A long-standing criticism of WelTAG is that it effectively favours road building by capturing (and maximising) all the potential economic benefits of road schemes and either omitting, or minimising, the benefits of the alternatives. This means that despite the fact that the Welsh Government has numerous policies to provide safe, affordable and sustainable transport for all, in practice road schemes are favoured ahead of the alternatives.

Considering the M4 corridor around Newport proposal, a dubious economic case over-rides a series of catastrophic impacts on public health, air quality and wildlife. Sophie Howe, Wales' Future Generations Commissioner who challenged the scheme, recently said it should not go ahead.

The surest test of whether the refreshed WelTAG is working properly may be the conclusions that a public inquiry into the proposed M4 scheme reach, and the extent to which economic appraisal feeds into that.

Sustrans believes that investment would be far better spent on supporting walking and cycling. Investing in active travel will align far more readily with the policy imperatives of the Well-being of Future Generations Act.

Read Dr Andy Cope's analysis of Weltag