In 2018, we saw the opening of the Newtown bypass. This was a momentous occasion for Mid Wales. I firmly believe that the bypass has already helped the economy of our area.
Since the opening of the bypass, I have turned to the need for other important road schemes.
Many people in Montgomeryshire live, work and access public services on different sides of the Wales-England Border, and I feel that stronger cross-border infrastructure will provide a major boost for communities in Mid Wales.
There are also a number of key pinch points where smaller schemes can make all the difference.
In 2020, I distributed a survey to a number of areas asking you for your thoughts on how a number of cross-border road networks could be improved in our area. The responses showed the need for improvements on a number of stretches and the results allowed me to present a plan to the Welsh Government Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, to highlight the needs of our area.
1 – Building the Dyfi Bridge, Machynlleth
After raising the matter with the Transport Minister before Christmas, he had announced that construction will begin in March.
The Dyfi Bridge was never designed to carry the current volume of traffic. The road is also often closed due to frequent flooding causing traffic to take a diversion of up to 30 miles.
Work on construction was due to start in 2020, but sadly there has been a delay with additional time being required to plan the construction works with Covid-19 regulations in place. I can’t stress how important it is to improve the reliability of crossing the River Dyfi and to improve access to key services including employment opportunities, healthcare and education for the people of Machynlleth and the surrounding area. It is good news that construction of the new bridge and road scheme will finally commence and due to be completed by Spring 2023.
2 – Progressing the Pant-Llanymynech Bypass
The local campaign for a Pant-Llanymynech bypass has also been rumbling on for decades and the lack of progress is creating significant concern for residents, preventing tourists from visiting and spending their money in Mid Wales, and affecting local Mid Wales businesses who rely on exporting their goods across the border.
Many people live, work and access public services on different sides of the Wales-England Border but our existing governance arrangements do not incentivise improving those links. I have long been concerned that a long term solution can only go ahead if the UK and Welsh Governments work together on this crucial cross-border scheme. We now have a commitment from both Governments that a Pant-Llanymynech Bypass will be delivered.
I was pleased to have a meeting earlier this year with our MP Craig Williams, the Welsh economy minister and MP’s on the other side of our border to progress plans. I am also pleased that discussions are progressing between Highways England and the Welsh Government to develop a scheme and to identify the options. I will continue to urge both governments to progress the scheme as soon as possible.
3 - Schemes at Llanidloes and Caersws
On other transport and highway matters, I have had discussions to initiate a number of smaller schemes to resolve traffic flows and safety concerns in the county including the dualling of road sections at Llangurig and Llanidloes along with improvements at Moat Lane Crossing near Caersws with a roundabout replacing the current junction.
Also in Caersws, along with County Councilor Les George and others, I have been promoting a new footbridge over the river, as the current bridge is dangerous for pedestrians crossing. Work to progress this scheme has been slow, but I’m hopeful we can at last see progress in 2021. Landowners have been approached and a public consultation event is being arranged by the Welsh Government.
More recently, I have raised my concerns in the Senedd about the traffic signals which have been in place on Caersws bridge, the Minster confirmed that some urgent investigative work in relation to the condition of the three arch masonry bridge is taking place. I urged that this work is carried out at pace, and asked the Minister to ensure that all these separate but related issues and schemes at these points are considered together,
4 – Improved links to Shrewsbury needed
You told me that we need better road links between Welshpool and Shrewsbury. Without good transport connections, tourists are put off visiting and spending their money in Mid Wales and poor road connections also impact the businesses that rely on exporting goods across the border.
In recent years, we have seen how delays to repairing Cefn Bridge on the A458 in Trewern caused congestion and huge disruption for people living in the area and across mid Wales.
We have also seen how flooding has forced the closure of the B4393 at Llandrinio on a number of occasions. Most people also agreed that the A458 Road (Welshpool to Shrewsbury) and the B4393 Road (Llandrinio to Shrewsbury) need improvements.
For the A458 road, a significant number of people expressed concerns about the safety of Cefn Railway Bridge and also raised concerns about the speed of vehicles on this road. Out of the respondents who said they wanted to see improvements to this road, many of them expressed a desire for a bypass.
In terms of the B4393 road, residents highlighted concerns about the general condition of the road and also the impact of flooding, suggesting that the road needs to be raised or more flood prevention measures put in place. A number of people also raised concerns about the speed of vehicles on this road.
People’s expectations of Wales' rail service are simple. As the passenger watchdog Transport Focus put it: “Passengers tell us that their top priorities for the new Wales and Borders railway are getting a seat on reliable services that provide good value for money.”
Sadly, my email inbox from frustrated rail commuters has significantly increased. Frustrations of cancelled trains, leaving students attending college in Shrewsbury stranded, or people not being able to get to and form work.
I have been raising concerns about the performance of Transport for Wales on the Cambrian Aberystwyth to Shrewsbury Line and have been seeking assurances over commitments made, following the Welsh Rail franchise coming under public control during the Autumn.
There have been many concerns since Transport for Wales took responsibility for the service a couple of years ago. I am pleased that the Transport Minister has confirmed to me that previous commitments made will still be honoured following the rail service coming under public control.
A new fleet of trains is being built specifically for the Cambrian Line and will be introduced from 2022. These trains will deliver increased capacity for passengers but will also run with faster acceleration, allowing services to meet the timetable more reliably. However, until the new trains are introduced, I will be calling for Transport for Wales to make progress on improving their level of service.