Edwina Hart, Minister for Economy, Science and Transport
Now that I have given consideration to the final report of my Ministerial Task Force on North Wales Transport, together with the responses received from the consultation on the draft National Transport Plan, I am able to outline my future priorities for transport in North Wales.
Further details will be provided, alongside my priorities for other parts of the country, when I publish my investment priorities for transport in Wales which I expect to do shortly.
My focus in deciding on the transport priorities has been to deliver the objectives set out in the Wales Transport Strategy, to improve access and connectivity to support economic growth and link communities to key services and employment. The investments will encourage people to adopt more healthy and sustainable ways of travelling, assist with reducing economic inactivity and improve road safety.
North Wales is going through an exciting period with transformational projects either underway or in the pipeline. It is vitally important that our transport system in the region supports that development and seeks to encourage further investment to grow the regional economy. I am also acutely aware of the importance of cross boundary connectivity and the interventions I will set out will seek to maximise that potential.
The transfer of powers for rail franchising to the Welsh Government brings with it new opportunities to improve rail services that will cater for future demand and that support our wider economic and social ambitions in North Wales. I have also established a clear framework setting out the work that needs to be undertaken to ensure a smooth transfer of responsibility for rail franchising by early 2017. I will continue to press the UK Government to invest in the rail infrastructure to maximise these opportunities.
It is vital to secure the support of businesses and local authorities for this agenda. I am pleased to say this is already happening through my close work with Councillor Dilwyn Roberts, Chair of the North Wales Economic Ambition Board.
I am fully committed to rail modernisation and the electrification of the North Wales Coast Mainline. I am grateful to Councillor Roberts and his officers for their support in strengthening the business case for electrification, including determining the wider economic benefits of modernisation. I have commissioned Dr Elizabeth Haywood to work with the Economic Ambition Board, local authorities, businesses and others to enlist support for electrification of the main line and we will continue to press this case with the Department for Transport for inclusion in the next investment period.
Electrification is only part of my vision for a wider rail modernisation programme. Cross border connectivity has an important economic role to play to maximise opportunities from transport investments in the Northern Hub and North Wales areas. My officials have examined the feasibility of extending cross-Pennine services into North Wales and are taking forward discussions to deliver that service. We are also working with Merseytravel to develop the case for upgrading the Halton Curve to improve connectivity between Liverpool and North Wales.
The network constraints between Wrexham and Chester present significant barriers to achieving the desired rail connectivity for Wrexham. I have sought support from the Secretary of State for Transport in directing Network Rail to undertake development work with a view to providing further network capacity between Wrexham and Chester. I have ensured that a case is made for this priority, as well as other improvements in North Wales, and pressed for their inclusion in Network Rail’s final Wales Route Study.
Connecting population centres along the North Wales corridor with our 3 Enterprise zones of Anglesey and Deeside and Snowdonia, and Ireland, the rest of the UK and into Europe is equally important. We have submitted a bid under the first round of Trans European Transport Network (TEN-T) funding for improvements to the A55 which will support our aspirations for Holyhead having a key role to play in facilitating the mobility of goods and passengers within the European Union. We are also exploring opportunities for ‘Motorways of the Sea’ projects at Holyhead so that we can make an application to fund these under future TEN-T rounds.
Recognising the strategic importance of the trunk road network in the region, I will be progressing with developing schemes to address congestion, resilience issues and improve journey time. We are already well advanced with the A487 Caernarfon and Bontnewydd By-pass and aim to start construction late 2016. We are also making good progress with determining the preferred route to overcome the traffic problems on the A494/ A55 at Queensferry. I am assessing two corridors and will hold a public exhibition later in the year before confirming the preferred route in 2016. In addition to earmarking over £200million on improving the road network in the Deeside area I am committing funding to develop a business case for a third crossing over the Menai Straits.
In addition to the major road improvements, I will continue to invest in schemes that will improve the operation of the trunk road network. In an attempt to reduce the impact of traffic problems on the A55 I have just completed investing nearly £5million to introduce emergency crossing points and hardened verges and refurbishing drainage systems prone to flooding. A further £42million investment in the A55 tunnels is scheduled to be completed this financial year and it is my intention to identify what other improvements that need to be delivered to improve the resilience of the network.
Last month, I approved the Local Transport Plan for North Wales which was prepared collaboratively by the six local authorities. To support the authorities with delivering their priorities, I have allocated a total of £6 million transport grant this year to fund local road schemes, introduce new walking and cycling facilities and to improve road safety. Many of these schemes will support economic development and improve access to the Enterprise Zones and other employment sites. Schemes supported include £1.867 million for the Llangefni Link Road, £720,000 for works to improve access to key locations in Deeside and £206,000 to enable continued development of the proposed new road link to the Llanbedr Airfield in the Snowdonia Enterprise Zone. I am also providing funding of £772,000 for active travel routes to employment sites in Denbighshire and Wrexham.
Bus and community transport is also important in the region, I will continue to provide £6.71 million of Bus Services Support Grant to local authorities to support socially necessary subsidised bus and community transport services. I have also set aside funding to continue the TrawsCymru bus services in the region between Bangor with Aberystwyth and Wrexham and Barmouth. My investment to date has been on new buses, more frequent services and better information for passengers and this has led to a growth in patronage with 300,000 passengers using the two services last financial year.
Plans are also well advanced to introduce a new discounted weekend return ticket “Bwmerang” in July to encourage more students and young people to use the two TrawsCymru services in North Wales. In addition to supporting young people, I propose to maintain the current arrangement which allows holders of the concessionary travel card in Wales to travel without charge on rail services on the Cambrian Coast line, the Conwy Valley line and between Wrexham and Hawarden Bridge on the Borderlands Line.
I am committed to ensuring a modern integrated transport system for the whole of Wales and am confident these investments will introduce further improvements to the transport system in North Wales.