Y Pwyllgor Deisebau - Y Bumed Senedd
Petitions Committee - Fifth Senedd01/10/2019
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Jack Sargeant AM|
|Janet Finch-Saunders AM||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Leanne Wood AM|
|Michelle Brown AM|
|Neil McEvoy AM|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Carolyn Thomas||Cyngor Sir y Fflint|
|Flintshire County Council|
|Iwan Prys Jones||Bwrdd Uchelgais Economaidd Gogledd Cymru|
|North Wales Economic Ambition Board|
|Stephen Jones||Cyngor Sir y Fflint|
|Flintshire County Council|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Ross Davies||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Samiwel Davies||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:03.
The meeting began at 09:03.
Good morning. Bore da. Welcome to this meeting of the Petitions Committee. There is no need to turn off mobile phones or other electronic devices, but please ensure that they are in silent mode. No apologies have been received as yet.
We move on to new petitions: 'Ban the use of A boards in Wales'. This was submitted by Angharad Paget-Jones, having collected 80 signatures.
'A petition to ban the use of A board advertising in Wales. A boards not only clutter our pavements but pose a huge risk to disabled people as getting past them in a wheelchair or if you're visually impaired often means you're forced onto the road to by-pass them.'
We did receive an initial response to the petition from the Minister for Housing and Local Government on 13 August. A research briefing has been provided and the petitioner has provided further comment. How would you like to take this forward?
I think we can get further evidence from charities, businesses and the WLGA as well.
Okay. The next one: 'Buses for people—.' 'Buses for people for profit'. Okay.
It should say 'not for profit'.
'Not for profit'. I thought. We received this last week, of course.
Can I—? Just on that point, Chair. Previously, before I joined the committee, I actually signed this petition, so I think that states where I lie with this one. I'll leave my comments to other Members.
Okay. So, it was submitted by Councillor Carolyn Thomas, having collected a total of 3,705 signatures—514 signatures online and 3,164 on paper—and they're calling on the National Assembly for Wales,
'to urge Welsh Government to regulate commercial bus operators and give powers and funding to Local Authorities to run services that best meet the needs of local people. As well as providing access to employment and education, public transport is a social, health and wellbeing issue which is growing as bus services are being rapidly reduced, affecting the mental and physical health and well being of many residents who will become socially isolated and unable to get to basic services.'
So, we received an initial response to the petition from the Minister for Economy and Transport on 15 August. A research briefing on the petition has been provided, and the petitioner has provided further comments. How would you like to take this forward?
I think we could write back to the Minister for Economy and Transport. It's a huge issue, though, because in my area they've taken off the hospital bus and especially elderly people, without recourse to public transport, just can't get to hospital now. That's across the board, so I think we should see what the Minister's got to say, really.
Okay. So, that would be in relation to the proposed public transport Bill; maybe the committee could ask some further questions about what the Government proposes. Okay?
Yes. The next one, 'Look into the way parents are being treated by public services'. This petition was submitted by Reann Jenkins, having collected a total of 121 signatures. This petition is calling on the National Assembly for Wales
'to review the way parents and families, particularly those with disabled children, are treated by public services including the NHS, schools and social services. Families are being wrongly threatened and treated badly by professionals such as social services, doctors, nurses and staff in schools. This must stop.'
So, an initial response to the petition was received from the Minister for Health and Social Services on 13 August. A research briefing on the petition and related issues has been provided, and the petitioner has provided further comments. We've actually received some further comments today as well, whether you have time to read it, or whether we feel—.
Yes. So, some additional comments were received from the petitioner first thing this morning. So, we've provided you with a copy, but it may be that you'd want to consider it a bit further at a future meeting.
Yes, I think so, so that we've had the opportunity to see it.
I've got a lot of sympathy for what the petitioner is saying, because I think there's an issue of social class as well in terms of discrimination in Wales. I think if people were treated as they should be, then I'd probably be almost out of a job—seriously—so I think it's a big issue.
Okay. So, there's a proposal to defer it.
Is that what you'd like to do?
I'd agree with that.
Yes, to the next meeting. Okay, that's deferred.
'Ban the Sale of Real Fur in Wales'. This petition was submitted by Cardiff Animal Rights, having collected a total of 3,098 signatures—827 online and 2,271 on paper.
'Farming animals for fur has been banned in the UK for over 16 years due to the cruelty involved. However, fur products are still legally imported from countries with little or no animal welfare laws. Many animals are trapped in the wild using steel jaw leghold traps and have been known to chew off their own limbs in a frantic attempt to escape. Animals are also bred on fur farms usually in horrendous cramped conditions leading to severe mental trauma, skin sores and diseases.'
So, we received an initial response from the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs on 3 September. We've also had a research briefing. Unsolicited submissions have been received from the British Fur Trade Association and a member of the public. The petitioner was informed that the petition would be discussed but has not provided additional comments. How would you like to take this forward?
I agree that we need to wait for the response from the petitioner. Obviously, the petition itself is quite heavily supported, so I think we need to just take views on what they have to say following the Minister's response.
Okay. So, wait for a response from the petitioner. Okay with that, Neil?
Okay. 'Paternal Mental Health (New Fathers Mental Health)'. This petition was submitted by Mark Williams, having collected a total of 116 signatures. The text of the petition states:
'In a "landmark move" NHS England will screen and support fathers for their mental health if the partner has a perinatal mental health illness. The biggest killer in men under 50 is suicide and with a new debate in Parliament we feel the Welsh Government should be following and funding new father's mental health as without the support it can impact on mums and the development of the child.'
We received a response on this one from the Minister on 13 August. A research briefing has been provided and the petitioner has provided additional comments. How would you like to go forward with this one?
I'll declare an interest because I'm going to be a dad in November. I think we could write back to the Minister for a response to the petitioner's suggestions, but I think the petitioner is raising really interesting points and valid points as well.
So, a proposal to write back to the Minister.
Yes, let's do that.
Okay, 2.6, 'Filming and Recording of Council Meetings'. This petition was submitted by Councillor Russell Spencer-Downe, having collected a total of 58 signatures. They want to call on the Assembly for Wales
'to urge the Welsh Government to follow the law in England that enshrines in law the right of residents, bloggers and journalists to report, blog, tweet and film council meetings to ensure openness and transparency. This has not happened in Wales and should be brought in, to allow the same in Wales. This requirement should allow members of the public, as responsible observers, to record or film such meetings without the need for prior permission and to re-use the material freely to provide a direct and wider line of communication to the electorate.'
We received a response from the Minister for Housing and Local Government on 19 August. A research briefing on the petition has been provided, and we've received further comments. How would you like to go forward with this one?
We could go back to the Minister to see what her views are. We have got the Bill coming forward, so let's just get the views and then take it from there.
So, write back to the Minister. Are you in support of that, Neil?
Yes, definitely. I think it's a good proposal, as long as certain members aren't just targeted individually, which can happen at times. But I think everything should be open and transparent and published.
Okay. And, now, we have the updates to previous petitions. So, 'Ensure access to the cystic fibrosis medicine, Orkambi, as a matter of urgency'. And, of course, this has been within this committee for quite some time now, and they are calling for
'a resolution to ongoing negotiations between NHS Wales, the All Wales Medicines Strategy Group, the Welsh Health and Specialised Services Committee and Vertex Pharmaceuticals regarding access to the cystic fibrosis medicine, Orkambi, as a matter of the utmost urgency.'
So, we last considered this on 9 July, agreeing to await a further update from Vertex Pharmaceuticals. We had a response from the All Wales Medicines Strategy Group on 7 August. The Minister for Health and Social Services issued a written statement on 12 August, and on 12 September, it was announced that the Scottish Government and Vertex have agreed an interim deal, which means that Orkambi, and another drug, Symkevi, will be available on the NHS in Scotland for the next five years. The Cystic Fibrosis Trust has provided comment on behalf of the petitioner, and additional comments, which are in your pack, have been provided by Vertex, dated 27 September 2019.
Welcome, Michelle Brown and Leanne Wood. So, how would you like to take this forward?
They say that they're going to put their submission forward on 7 October. So, I wonder whether we wait until then, then come back to it after the seventh.
Yes, this seems useful to me.
I think it's worth noting that things appear to have moved on in this field. You'll probably be aware that there was an announcement on 12 September that an interim deal has been reached in Scotland for access to this medicine to be made available for five years. And the latest submission that the Chair has referred to, from Vertex Pharmaceuticals, is that they will be making their submission of evidence around Orkambi and another drug shortly, and that they've also offered the same deal that's been agreed in Scotland to the Welsh Government, though there is an appraisal process for the Government to go through before that. So, it looks like there might be some movement shortly. I guess the question for the committee might be at what point and in what way you want to follow that up.
I think we take Neil's view on board, that we wait to see where we are after the seventh, see what their submissions are like, and what comes after that—
Okay. All Members in agreement with that. Okay.
3.2, 'Declare a climate emergency and fit all policies with zero-carbon targets'—this petition was submitted by Matthew Misiak, on behalf of Extinction Rebellion, and first considered in May 2019, having collected 6,148 signatures. And they want to urge the Welsh Government to declare a climate emergency, ensure all current and future policies are consistent with averting further climate change and ecological collapse, enact legally binding policy measures to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025, and to reduce consumption levels. They also want to implement a citizens' assembly of Wales to oversee the changes. A Plenary debate on this petition was held on 19 June. We last considered this on 9 July, agreeing to write back to the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs to ask for a response to the petitioners' call for a citizens' assembly and for further information, including a timescale, about the review of actions in 'Prosperity for All: A Low Carbon Wales', and to share details of the petition with the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee, asking them to raise the issues with the Minister in a future evidence session. So, we received a response from the Minister on 13 August, and the original petitioner and Extinction Rebellion have provided more comments. How would you like to take this forward?
Can I say, I just think there seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding on the part of the Government as to what Extinction Rebellion mean by a citizens' assembly? First of all, as they point out, there is already cross-party support for the setting up of citizens' assemblies. But the Minister's answer, by saying that these are most effective when established on a cross-party parliamentary basis, suggests that the Minister thinks that a parliamentary response to this in terms of leading these citizens' assemblies is what the Government is thinking. And the point of a citizens' assembly is that the citizens drive it—it's the people. It's not the Ministers and the Government that drive it and run it; they're meant to fund it and facilitate it, and then the citizens' assembly itself is meant to take all the major decisions. So, in our response back to the Minister, I think we need to reflect that point. And also if we can ask for the further detail that the petitioners have asked that we ask for, then I think that would be helpful as well.
Okay. Does everybody agree that we write back to the Minister and make those points?
Yes. It's important to know what they're going to do, rather than just say.
'National reading and numeracy tests for children from as young as age six need to be discontinued with immediate effect'—we first considered this petition on 9 July, agreeing to await the views of the petitioner on the response received from the Minister for Education before considering whether to take further action on the petition. A response from the petitioner was received on 29 July. On 3 September, the Minister published a written statement on the development of online personal assessments to replace these tests. I invite Members to discuss what action they would like to take.
I have a huge amount of sympathy for the petitioner on this. I think that these tests do divert attention towards getting through the test as opposed to ordinary learning. So, if we could write back to the Minister to seek the response to the concerns raised by the petitioner in that regard then I think that would be a good way forward.
Okay. Everyone in agreement? All Members? Thanks.
Okay, so we're going to now listen to an evidence session. 'Stop the Red Route (A55/A494 corridor)'—this was submitted by Linda Scott and was first considered in June 2019, having collected 1,409 signatures. You'll find the petition, the latest position and some proposed questions on page 114.
Before we start—before the evidence starts—just to make Members aware, and the committee aware, I've previously declared support for the red route previous to—in the run-up to joining the Assembly. So, I declare that support.
Okay. We have—good morning—Mr Tom Rippeth and we have Mike Webb. Maybe you would like to introduce yourselves for the record.
Sure. My name's Mike Webb. I'm a chartered town planner and I'm representing the North Wales Wildlife Trust.
I'm Tom Rippeth. I live in Northop, the community that is adversely impacted by the red route. I also have a bit of a professional interest in fluid dynamics and also climate change, which might come into my submission.
Okay, thank you. So, we're very grateful to you for coming in today to discuss this petition and the background to your concerns over the proposals for the A55/A494 corridor. In terms of the practical running of this session, this is the first of two evidence sessions we are holding this morning. Following this session, we will also be hearing from the North Wales Economic Ambition Board and Flintshire council in relation to their support for the proposed road. Committee members will have a number of questions for you. So, if you are content, we'll move straight forward with those. So, I'll kick off the session. Can you provide an overview on your main concerns about the proposed project, please?
Okay. The bottom line is the red route won't solve congestion problems in north-east Wales. When I look through documents from Flintshire County Council, they say that. When I look through documents from the North Wales Economic Ambition Board, they say that. This implies that significant additional work is required. For example, the Ewloe interchange, which is not included on the red route but is actually the worst accident spot on the entire A55—there are no plans at all costed in to improving that. So, in terms of resilience, the red route isn't going to have any great impact at all. If such costs were brought in, I suspect that the costings would probably double and the benefit to cost ratio will go out the window.
Now, in our petition response, the Minister was kind enough to make his views known, and we just noted that, in responding to the commission, he conceded that the consultation process was potentially biased, because the residents of Flint and Northop, who are personally impacted by the construction of the red route, were not actually included as fully in the consultation as residents in areas where support for the red route probably isn't support for the red route—it's more support against the other option, because, of course, there were only two options given.
The Minister also concedes in his response that the traffic surveys were carried out at seasonably quiet times. Now, I find this quite hard to believe, given the Assembly Government has actually published a network resilience document, which actually shows the seasonal variability of flow, and it shows, at the times when the traffic surveys were done for this project, it's actually the quiet times. This also points out that holiday periods have very much higher levels of traffic, three to five times higher than neutral times. He doesn't even respond to our point regarding holiday periods. So, I'd say that the traffic modelling that has been used to justify the red route is fundamentally flawed.
Finally, as I said earlier, I'm a professor of climate science, and the push for this new road—which is not actually a full new road, it's just a bit of a bypass past part of the problem to another problem—at a time when the Assembly's declared a climate emergency seems to me a bit of a strange way forward, particularly when we read the consultation document, which predicts that, over the next 20 years, we're going to see a 10 per cent decline in public transport use in these areas. And, surely, if there's a climate emergency, we want to reduce carbon emissions, we've got to get more people on to public transport.
So, it's not surprising that we're seeing a cut in public transport, because, as somebody that tries to use it in north Wales, I can tell you we've seen our trains cut in the last five years—we had a petition to this committee a couple of years ago about that—and we've just heard earlier in this committee about cuts to local bus services. In Northop, we saw our bus services halve between Flint and Mold only in April this year. So, people can't use public transport while you're cutting it. Spending £250 million on a road, when you could actually be ensuring public transport levels are maintained, seems to me to go totally against the climate emergency.
Thank you. And, Mike, do you have any comments?
Good morning, everybody. As a town planner, I'm very disappointed in these proposals, because they seem to have come forward in a vacuum. As a planner, one would expect what we would call a plan stage. So, we'd expect an overarching strategy to address the whole spectrum of problems associated with congestion in this location. We'd expect the advent of sustainable development and your highly praised Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 to mean that there would be more of a sustainable development orientated approach to these problems. So, we're very disappointed that the Welsh Government seems to have chosen to produce these two options like rabbits out of a hat and they're offering a binary choice between two damaging highway options. They're not offering a sustainable development option, which would include non-car solutions to the problems, they're not offering smart highway technology, they're not offering a step change in public transport, as Professor Rippeth referred to.
That's doubly disappointing, because there are two key legal stages that we need to go through here: one is the strategic environmental assessment stage, which is a requirement from the strategic environmental assessment directive, and the second one is the habitats regulations assessment, which relates to special protection areas, which are nature conservation areas of European importance. It appears that neither of those two stages have been gone through. Obviously, because there's no plan, there's no overarching strategy, we just dive straight into these two damaging highway schemes. Even at the highway scheme level, there's no reference to strategic environmental assessment or habitats regulations assessment at that level. And this is particularly disappointing, particularly in the context of the work that the future generations commissioner has been doing on seeking sustainable solutions to congestion and other highway related problems.
We're very disappointed in the lack of reference to the north Wales metro. So, the metro concept is supposed to be a game changer. It's supposed to be a step change in the way in which we look at public transport. It's supposed to get people out of their cars, get them on to public transport. It's supposed to create a seamless multi-modal full spectrum solution to these problems. But this appears to have passed the Welsh Government by completely. So, there's no reference to the north Wales metro having any positive impact, which would alleviate the need for these two damaging highway proposals.
There isn't even any demographic information. So, there's no information about the population of north Wales, which is plateauing and will probably fall in the near future, and there's no reference to the fact that we have an ageing population in north Wales and, therefore, the commuting population is already falling quite fast. So, we would question the fact that these all undermine the need for these damaging highway solutions. There's no reference to Brexit either, so there's no reference to the possible impacts of Brexit on the port of Holyhead and whether that will have an impact on lorry movement to and from the port along the north Wales coast.
Now, you don't need me, I'm sure, as a representative of the North Wales Wildlife Trust to tell you that the highway will also have a seriously damaging impact on ancient woodland in the vicinity, ancient trees, the Dee estuary special protection area and Ramsar site. Finally, on greenhouse gases, as Professor Rippeth has referred to, the Welsh Government makes a key admission here that greenhouse gas emissions will rise as a result of both of these options. Now, in the well-being of future generations era that we're now in, this really should not be the case, and it's very important, I think, that we take a step back from the work that's been done so far. Let's take a step back and let's take a long, cool look at what's been done so far, and let's see if we can start again and do it right. Thank you very much.
Thank you. Do you agree that there is a problem that needs to be addressed, and, if so, what alternative solutions do you both propose, and why do you believe they will be effective?
I think there's a problem that needs to be addressed, as I said earlier. The problem hasn't changed over the last decade, according to the traffic flow figures, when, of course, there was a previous project that the Assembly scrapped because it was unaffordable, although the unaffordability, the level of cost, was actually a lot lower than the level of cost that we're talking about here. In terms of public transport, we could look at the railways, we could ask the question why commuters in north Wales are paying about twice as much per mile in their rail fares as commuters in south Wales. I know that because I commute every day from Flint to Bangor. We could actually look at using smart technology. So, my other half works in Manchester, so she commutes the Aston hill to the M56 through to Manchester every day. When she heads towards Manchester, there are all these signs telling her the optimum route to go to to get to the centre of Manchester. When she comes back, there's absolutely nothing, and, in fact, when we look in this network resilience study, there is an admission by the Assembly that the A55 is sadly lacking in smart technology. Now, one of the big problems that we can see with the red route relates to traffic flow through Flint, which gets gridlocked at the same time as traffic flow up the Halkyn hill, and the main choke point on the A55 is the Halkyn hill, which is not included in this, but the red route actually feeds into the bottom of it, so it can only exacerbate that problem.
What this is telling us is that, really, we need to get smart, because if you put the red route in, people who are travelling to north Wales, there is a queue on Halkyn hill, their sat navs will tell them to go through Flint and make the problem even worse. If we want to talk about air quality, probably some of the worst air quality in Flintshire actually occurs along the Chester roads in Flint and in Shotton, and it's not helped by the fact there's a big power station there as well, of course.
The Welsh Government has already got an appraisal tool that uses the Welsh transport appraisal guidance, WelTAG 2017. However, in a letter that we've received from Sophie Howe, the future generations commissioner, she's sharply critical of the way in which this appraisal tool has been used in recent highways considerations. So, she says that this tool is often applied retroactively; in other words, the Welsh Government decides whether or not they want a highway scheme at all and where they want the highway scheme to go, before they actually apply the tool. So, they're not using the tool in a sustainable way to guide them in their decision making over the whole range of public transport and other measures that might be used before we start considering constructing new highways. So, the tool is already there, but it's not being used correctly according to the future generations commissioner.
Thank you. I now have some questions from Neil McEvoy.
Thanks for your evidence. It's really interesting for me to listen to this, and it's almost like déjà vu with stuff that is happening in the south. Just one thing, though—it's the Welsh Government, not the Assembly, so don't lump us all in the same boat. [Laughter.] I listened carefully as well to what you said about the ancient woodland and the Dee estuary. Could you go into more detail about the environmental impact for those areas?
Yes, sure. So, we submitted an objection in June 2017 to the Welsh Government highways division in Llandudno Junction. I'd like to quote from that:
'The red route involves the building of an entirely new dual carriageway across a rural area. This would damage or destroy habitats in its path, including protected sites'
—that means sites of special scientific interest, special protection areas, special areas of conversation, Ramsar sites et cetera—
'ancient woodland, areas of species-rich grassland, ancient species-rich hedgerows, wildlife-rich ponds. The Leadbrook Wood, for example, is a broadly semi-natural woodland that scores highly on the ancient woodland indicator index.'
We then go on to talk about wetlands, ancient trees as well. So, that just gives you a little taste, and it can only be a taste because this is such a massive project, of the types of irreplaceable, protected and declining habitats that would be severely damaged or destroyed by these proposals.
What do you think of the mitigation measures proposed?
By definition, ancient woodland can't be compensated for because it's irreplaceable. So, there's no way to compensate for the loss of ancient woodland, and that's reflected in the very, very strong protection that's provided to ancient woodland by 'Planning Policy Wales' 10. Whilst the planning system very rarely, if ever, puts a complete ban on something, as a planner I can tell you that the language used in 'Planning Policy Wales' sets the very, very highest bar that can be set. So, it talks about wholly exceptional circumstances. Now, obviously, this is not a wholly exceptional circumstance because there are other ways of looking at the issue.
One more. As a planner, really, are those rules worth anything, then, because what you're saying about ancient woodland I'm seeing in the south again, and it's been given the go-ahead just to bulldoze these areas. I'm wondering what that policy is actually worth in reality.
The planning system tends to work on the concept of balance, so it's the idea of weighing up one material consideration against another. Now, we consider that ancient woodland is absolutely up there with the highest irreplaceable resource. It only covers, I think, 2 per cent of the land surface of the UK, so we've lost a vast majority of it already. We simply cannot afford to lose any more. You wouldn't chip some pieces off Stonehenge or tear a strip out of the Mona Lisa, so you wouldn't chip away at our precious ancient woodland resource.
Okay. I think Tom just wants to come in quickly.
The key point about the ancient woodland is that it's a very special sort of ancient woodland—it's actually a wet ancient woodland—and only 3 per cent of the total ancient woodland in the UK is wet ancient woodland. And the historical point about it is that we know it's ancient because the wood that was used to build Flint castle came from there.
Thank you. Okay, questions from Leanne Wood now.
Can you provide an overview for us on the Welsh Government consultation on the scheme, and can you tell us why you believe that the consultation was geographically biased towards those who opposed the blue route, please?
So, you've all been given this map. You've got the blue route here, you've got the red route here, we've got Northop here, so this is where we're going to get the big spaghetti junction. I cycle across this bridge every day, so one of the things I notice is that I'm going to have no provision to actually cycle to Flint anymore. And the consultation took place down here and down here—so, both were close to the blue route. Now, Flint is up here, so Flint is more than 0.5 mile from the proposed red route. However, the congestion implications up here reflect on queuing traffic through Flint.
So, you're saying it excluded the people who were going to be most affected by—
It excluded a group of people who were going to be most affected by it, and the fact that Flint Town Council voted unanimously to oppose the red route but also to support the blue route—we're not here to support the blue route, but Flint council actually did support the blue route—speaks volumes for the fact that the people of Flint were not represented in this.
I also draw your attention to our petition. Now, we don't know exactly where everybody came from, but a vast number came from Delyn, which is this small area here, as opposed to this area down here. And if you do some sums with it, you can actually see that more people signed our petition from Delyn than would have actually supported the red route in the initial consultation document, despite the fact—
Can I just ask you, then, if the blue route was the one that was favoured, would the group of people in this area who were consulted be unhappy with that decision?
This area here?
Yes, they would be.
Okay. So, it's two sides then.
Our argument is that a binary choice was given, which seems to go against what the Government regulations suggest should happen, and that binary choice resulted in people who were against the blue route supporting the red route but without any real strong evidence to support the red route.
I notice, looking at the documentation that's been provided for the next witnesses, that they don't provide any strong arguments to support the red route except that it's not the blue route. So, we seem to have got stuck in this binary thing, and one of the things that I asked when I—. So, I actually bothered to go to the consultation down here, about six miles from where I live in Northop, and I asked the engineers, 'Look, you've got the A55 and they've spent a fortune on the A55. What about smart technology and what about actually changing the priorities on the junctions to make the most of this super road, which the traffic flow is actually quite low on, compared to the Aston hill?', and they said, 'That wasn't in our remit'. So, it doesn't appear that they've actually considered all of the available options, using existing traffic infrastructure, which goes against this whole thing about efficient use of infrastructure.
Yes, okay. Thank you.
If I could just add there that, just for clarity, the public consultation exercise only asked people whether they wanted the blue route or the red route. They didn't ask them, 'Do you want something else?'; they asked them, 'Do you want neither?', which is a bit of a leading question, obviously, because everyone accepts there's congestion in the vicinity, but the consultation was skewed in the sense that it didn't ask people whether there was anything else that they wanted instead of either route, which, again, goes against the whole concept of sustainable development, which is about seeking solutions—imaginative solutions—to problems.
Thank you very much.
I think the first question of the consultation gave the game away, when the first question said, 'Are you a resident of Deeside?' Well, Flint and Northop aren't in Deeside. So, it's almost like, 'We're not interested in you because you're not in Deeside.'
Okay. Some questions now from Michelle Brown.
Just before I go on to the value-for-money aspects, were there any other proposals for improving the congestion in Deeside and along that corridor?
Not presented as part of this scheme—
No, obviously not presented as part of this scheme, but has anybody else developed any alternative proposals?
So, the Assembly are actually spending an awful lot of money extending the chicane across the Dee. So, there are three problem areas: one is the Dee bridge at Queensferry, one is the Ewloe junction—both of those are on the blue route, but not the red route—and then one is the Halkyn hill, which is beyond both routes. So, the Assembly are actually committing to building an extra bridge across the River Dee, and they're moving the bit that goes from four lanes down to two lanes across the River Dee as far as Queensferry, in other words to the bottom of this hill at Halkyn. There are currently no proposals to do anything for Ewloe junction, despite the fact that it's the biggest accident hotspot on the A55 and improving safety there is actually identified as an objective in this scheme, although, by selecting the red route, they're not actually going to do anything about it, unless they spend extra amounts of money.
And then we come on to Halkyn hill, which is the main problem because it's two lanes, and all of you from north Wales will have sat in traffic jams on it now, and if you look at the traffic maps when there's major congestion, it's that hill and it goes backwards. So, no other proposals have been forward, but we would suggest that, first of all, you look at actually putting a crawler lane on Halkyn hill because that is the major congestion point. If you've got a choke point, deal with that first. Deal with the Ewloe junction issue, because that was a prime objective that came out of the initial planning process here, and then see what impact that has, together with the work that's already going on, on the bottom part of the blue route, across the river at Queensferry.
I should say that, in talking to members of our group who regularly commute and come up Aston hill, they all point to one reason for congestion on Aston hill, and that is that most of the traffic, at rush hour, are people coming home from work on the Deeside industrial estate. They are coming on to the blue route, they are coming up Aston hill, and then they are either going off towards Hawarden or they are going off down the A55 towards Broughton or whatever. Now, even the flawed traffic modelling shows that the A55 traffic will not be at all impacted if you put the blue route in or the red route in. So, if you build the red route, it will not actually stop the congestion problems at rush hour on this hill, because they're due to the fact that the hill goes down, essentially, from two lanes to one lane, as traffic is queuing to get off to go down the A55 or up into St David's. Even the flawed traffic modelling shows that.
It's interesting to note that the material provided by the petitioners to the next session appears to tacitly admit that the red route won't achieve very much congestion-wise, because they also appear to want the blue route as well. So, it's ironic that—. That's a key admission, I think—that the red route won't be fit for purpose because it will require the blue route as well, in addition to the measures that Professor Rippeth has referred to.
Thank you. You've stated that the cost of the red route has been significantly underestimated. Can you tell us some more about that?
So, there's an issue with the Flintshire bridge, which you'll see here. So, this is the bridge that the red route is going to go across. About 18 months ago, Flintshire County Council spent £0.5 million doing a survey to see what works would be necessary to upgrade it to take the trunk road—to take the red route—across it. Now, in response to our petition, the Minister said he doesn't anticipate any additional costs associated with the upgrading of the Flintshire bridge. Now, I know that a number of councillors have been repeatedly asking for publication of this report. We haven't seen it. So, there could be significant additional costings there, given that the Dee estuary is a very dynamic environment and things tend to sink in it. I know that—I've lost scientific instrumentation there myself. And then, of course, we get back to Ewloe junction, which is a big problem that isn't going to be touched if the red route proposals in isolation go ahead, but which is probably a £0.5 billion or £0.25 billion bill in itself.
Okay, thank you.
Okay. Any more questions, Michelle?
Thank you, Chair. Thank you both for your time this morning. Professor Rippeth, I wanted to touch on the traffic modelling that's been carried out. You mentioned at the start and in previous answers to Michelle that you think it's flawed due to the fact that it's been done at quieter times, not during holidays or rush hour and so on. Would you like to elaborate any more on that, or have you said—?
If we look at the detail of the traffic modelling, the questioning was done on Tuesdays to Thursdays between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. That was in the Minister's response to our letter. They then extrapolated that forward. I would argue, given the observations of people who actually come up the Aston hill, that people that are travelling along that road during that day aren't travelling from the Deeside industrial estate, the main area of employment, to St David's and down the A55. They probably are travelling from the M56, all the way through on to the A55. So, you're missing out on a key period of the day, which is the rush hour, which is when you do get some congestion if it occurs.
It was also taking place in October and November. If you look at this—. This is the resilience study of the A55/A494. There's a nice table in here. This is the geeky sign that's coming out. This actually gives traffic flow at various stages along the A55. You can see that in October and November, you're almost at the lowest point of traffic flow. January is the lowest point of traffic flow. It's some 30 or 40 per cent lower than the traffic flow in August and July. If you look down here, you can probably see this big black line here—this is holiday traffic. This is weekends. For example, on Easter Saturday this year, everything was totally gridlocked. I think I provided a screenshot to show that in our last response. This is a neutral time. So, the traffic modelling was carried out at this neutral time down here, yet they haven't taken account of the much enhanced traffic on bank holidays. And in responding to our submission following the petition, the Minister failed to deal with that in his letter.
Do you have any further comments that either of you would like to make?
Thank you very much, Members, for allowing us to speak this morning. We've all seen the demonstrations around the world these last couple of weeks, the schoolchildren's strike, sweeping across the globe and the passions that have been aroused in terms of the fight against climate change. We're justifiably proud of our groundbreaking legislation in Wales, the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, which promises a radical shake-up in the way in which we look at large infrastructure projects. And it's very sad to see this type of project still coming forward. We think that this type of project should have been consigned to history. The key admission, to our minds, is the fact that both routes will result in an increase in global gas emissions. And we really urge the Welsh Government and the National Assembly to start again with a cool head. Let's please start again and relook at this whole project in the light of our groundbreaking, world-renowned sustainable development legislation.
Thank you. Tom.
I concur with Mike. We've moved on an awful long way since these projects were first conceived, and there is new technology that's not been taken into account in the traffic modelling. There is the fact that we have a commitment from the Assembly Government—I think I've got that right—to further develop a lower carbon economy through getting people onto public transport. Having a scheme that starts off by admitting you're going to cut the number of people on public transport—or acknowledging that there's going to be a 10 per cent drop in the people using public transport is not a scheme we should be looking at in the twenty-first century.
Okay, thank you. I'd like to thank you both for attending, for answering our questions. A copy of the transcript will be sent to you to check for any factual inaccuracies. Following the sessions, this committee will consider the evidence it has heard and then we'll agree the next steps that the committee wishes to take. Thank you.
We're going to have a short break before the next evidence session, so we'll go into private.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 09:52 a 09:59.
The meeting adjourned between 09:52 and 09:59.
Good morning. Bore da. We now move to our evidence session 2 with the North Wales Economic Ambition Board, and we have with us Iwan Prys Jones, North Wales Economic Ambition Board; Steve O. Jones, chief officer, Streetscene and transportation, Flintshire County Council; and Councillor Carolyn Thomas, deputy leader and cabinet member for Streetscene and transportation, Flintshire County Council. A warm welcome to you this morning. Again, it would be nice for you to introduce yourselves for the record. We do have translation should you wish to use the Welsh language. So, Carolyn.
Shall I go first? I'm Councillor Carolyn Thomas. I've been a Flintshire councillor for 11 years. I became cabinet member for Streetscene and countryside three years ago and I became deputy leader in May. I also submitted the bus petition that you received earlier on. I'm very passionate about public transport and sustainable transport and also the environment.
Iwan Prys Jones. I provide project support for the economic ambition board in north Wales, and I've taken a lead on the regional transport agenda for north Wales on behalf of the EAB for the last five or six years or so.
Thank you. Steve.
Good morning. My name's Steve Jones. I'm chief officer for Streetscene and transportation at Flintshire County Council. I'm responsible for front-line Streetscene services, but amongst my role is transport planning and that's what I'm here in connection with today. Thank you.
Thank you. Can the panel provide an overview of why it believes the red route is the best solution?
We've been actively working on securing transport improvements across north Wales for the best part of a decade. The A55 is hopelessly inadequate along much of its length for the kind of volumes of traffic that it's carrying these days, and large parts of it are acting as a throttle on the economy, in particular the performance of the economy, for the region. We've got a hugely significant cross-border economy in north Wales, which relies on people being able to access employment opportunities on both sides of the border using the A55, the A494 and the A550, and the road network is just impossibly sized to cope with the demands that are being put on it on a daily basis. That's particularly the case when we see conflict between movements of people in and out of employment.
Deeside industrial park is by far the biggest employment site in the region, with something in the order of 8,000 to 10,000 people commuting in and out of it on a daily basis. So, you've got local commuting patterns happening in and out of Deeside industrial park, and when that conflicts with long-distance traffic, particularly tourism traffic in and out of north Wales, and long-distance strategic traffic predominantly from Ireland through the UK to Europe, that's when we end up with hours of congestion, effectively, on the main bottleneck into north Wales. We've also got failing infrastructure. The condition of the current bridge over the River Dee is a concern, and failure of that bridge could result in significant problems for the whole of the economy of north Wales.
But it's not just about roads. We're also acutely conscious that the public transportation offer needs to be significantly improved. As an economic ambition board, we've been working for the best part of a decade to secure improvements in the rail network. We were strong advocates, passionate supporters for the Growth Track 360 campaign that resulted in significant planned improvements in the Wales and borders rail franchise. We're working closely with colleagues, particularly in Flintshire and other authorities, to put together detailed proposals for the north-east Wales/north Wales metro, in particular how bus and rail better integrate. We've supported significant investment in terms of active travel routes and some of the busiest cycle paths anywhere in north Wales are as a result of activity that we've delivered specifically in and around the Deeside area. But there is still a lack of provision and we don't see this as a road scheme versus everything else; we actually see the road scheme as being able to facilitate further significant planned improvements in public transport infrastructure.
Thank you. Any other comments?
Yes. The road is part of a jigsaw puzzle, as I see it, linking Deeside industrial park and the A494 with the A55. We have schemes going forward, with funding from Welsh Government, park-and-ride schemes, a new parkway rail station at Deeside industrial park, linking the wider population by rail into the Deeside industrial park, which is 400 businesses and 9,000 jobs. The jobs are very variable. We can't get enough employees there at the moment. There are a lot of semi-skilled jobs and access is poor and not everybody drives. So, this is all part of this integrated transport scheme. I put in a petition earlier about bus transport. So, I need more buses to get people from the wider area to our hubs—our transport hubs, the railway stations. We’ll have a new parkway station at Deeside industrial park. We’ve got cycle links now going through Deeside industrial park to the wider area as well. The industrial park has 120,000 cyclists going through it every year; 12,000 cyclists at peak times as well. So, we also are looking at bus lanes along Deeside strip and setting up quality partnerships with bus operators, which is really important as we go forward. Looking at bus transport in the future, we need to work with our operators to set up the quality partnerships; we need to improve bus times. So, that’s why we’re putting in bus lanes. So, all this is part of the scheme, and the road is part of that jigsaw puzzle as well—to ease congestion, to improve access to Deeside industrial park and to link with the intermodal transport solution.
Thank you. So, tell me, the North Wales Economic Ambition Board—were you supportive of the red route prior to the Welsh Government’s announcement that this would be the preferred option?
As I think I indicated right at the outset, we need a solution to the congestion problems at Deeside, and that’s not just about the sheer volume of traffic trying to use an inadequate two-lane highway and a bridge that is reaching the end of its viable life at the moment; it’s actually about providing resilience as well. So, a single route in and out of the region for the vast majority of travel, certainly from the M56 through to north Wales—yes, you can go round to Chester, but having alternative routes so that, when incidents happen from time to time, there is a viable choice, is also part of the mix.
There have been previous proposals in place for upgrading Aston hill in the past. About six or seven years ago, there was a substantial inquiry into an alternative that ran along the line of the proposed blue route. The reality is that the amount of traffic trying to use that single route is such that the scheme was so large that it actually caused environmental problems in its own right, just because of the sheer volume of access. And that's where the current thinking, that what we actually need is a road-improvement package that sits alongside a significant and sustained package of public transport interventions, is the right way forward.
So, were the board in favour of this route prior to it being accepted by the Welsh Government as being the favoured option?
I think, in our initial consultation response, on balance, we favoured the red route because it offered a better alternative in resilience should there be issues with having just an improvement on the existing route.
Thank you. Some questions from Leanne Wood.
Thank you. You mentioned environmental issues. Can you tell us if there are any other reasons why you think the alternative blue route is not suitable?
Mainly because—. There are a number of issues. I think the disruption to traffic movement during the construction of the road is going to be quite significant, and it’s a real difficult challenge in that area. It also passes through a very populous area. There are existing constraints in terms of air quality, because of the sheer volume of traffic using it, and to add to that is probably going to only make that issue worse. But our primary concern is to ensure that there is an adequate solution that delivers transport for north Wales.
Okay. Well, have you looked at any other alternative options other than the blue and the red route at all?
If I could come in and just say that Flintshire were actually just consultees in this process, but we did go through quite an exhaustive process of considering the two options, and there were clearly merits in both options. And I think the panel have actually had the benefit of seeing our response to the consultation process, and we put forward a proposal, what we’ve called 'red route plus’, because there were clearly a lot of benefits in the red route, because that provides that resilience that Iwan has already—. It'll also bring benefit during the construction period. This is going to have huge impact on a major artery whilst it’s being constructed, but the red route will have less of an impact. However, there were still some elements of the blue route that we felt needed to be included in a wider project, because we do see this, in Flintshire, not just as a road scheme. It clearly isn’t a road scheme; it is a transport corridor, and Carolyn has already referenced issues around the work that we're doing with Welsh Government in respect of the metro. It's about trying to make people get out of their cars and use public transport where they can, giving us that connectivity, which is what the metro is all about.
So, we felt, on balance, that the red route gave us much more opportunity to connect with both rail and also the existing active travel routes. But the red route plus, as we call it, also asks Welsh Government to consider some other options, which, again, we would hope would be included in a final scheme, and I think some of the petitioners also brought those up. And, if they read through our response, they would see that we tried to answer those responses, particularly around the Ewloe interchange, which is the direction where we have issues, particularly in holiday periods, where there are queues back to the Chester direction. By introducing the red route, we'd ask that Ewloe is redesigned to perhaps change the priority on that junction to give priority to traffic from that direction and deal with the issue that clearly exists at that interchange. 169
But moving on to—
Sorry, do you think that it was a problem then that the consultation only looked at these two options, and this red route plus that you're talking about, which is a potential further option, wasn't consulted on at all?
No, I don't think it's a case of that. I think that the two routes that were laid out had benefits. It was one or the other, and I think you referred to, in the earlier session, that, whichever option is chosen, it's going to impact on people. But the bottom line is there needs to be a solution here. What we've tried to pick is the preferred route, which is the red route, but some of the tangible benefits from the blue route option, such as the improvements to Ewloe and the issue with Halkyn—the slight incline up to Halkyn does create a problem at the moment, and that creates a backlog that feeds all the way back to the Aston hill and then right back into England. That needs to be dealt with with a crawler lane, and that's one of our recommendations within our response to the consultation document. So, it's a broader package, which includes active travel, which includes all of the other forms of transport, making sure it all works together, but there needs to be some key infrastructure, highway infrastructure, improvements, to make this work as a single entity into north Wales.
I've just got one final question, which is: the petition mentions plans for a new A494 Dee bridge, widening of the A494, and other improvements that will deliver traffic improvements without the need for the red route—how would you respond to that?
I think the repair works to the existing Dee crossing are required irrespective of red or blue. The bridge itself needs to be replaced, and that's why that work is going ahead, ahead of these two options. It does give some local opportunities to improve traffic flows, but it isn't the long-term solution. The long-term solution is the main gateway into north Wales, which needs to be improved. It will provide some local improvements in congestion, but it isn't—
It doesn't do the overall job.
And, just to say, if I could, Chair, this does have a huge impact on the local network. It is—. Every evening, particularly in the summer period, people do take alternatives, and, whilst this is a trunk road, clearly a Welsh Government road, the impact is felt most heavily on the local network, and, if you try to get through Deeside any time on a Friday evening, or any time at 5 o'clock, you'll see for yourself. And that's why Welsh Government are working with us to provide bus lanes, to look at more radical, new ways of trying to get people out of motor cars, onto public transport. But we've got to recognise that there will be always be a need for independent means of transport, which is the car, whether that's electric, hydrogen or whatever in the future. We have to build that into the equation somewhere, and that red route forms part of that equation.
Thank you. In response to Leanne, we were presented with the red and blue route, so we looked at those two. We did discuss a possible green route, which was about improved signage, and, yes, improved signage will help, I think; we could direct people another way, via Wrexham, into north Wales. So, it would be good to have improved signage, but that wouldn't satisfy the issues regarding congestion altogether. The A494, the blue route, and the repairs to the bridge—the bridge is deteriorating; it was built in the 1960s. That's got to happen. I've been so concerned that we're going to have a road closure there, even this last year. So, we'd really welcome the investment, but I don't think that solution would ease the traffic in the long term. That's why this red route needs to go ahead. We have asked for red route plus. We'd like the plus bit—which is the extra crawler lane going up the hill towards Holywell—we'd like that to be done before the red route. We think that's really important, otherwise there could be a bottleneck. We have asked Welsh Government if they could do this, and we haven't had a response yet. So, I would like to have that in writing that that is done before the red route is completed—unless Iwan has had something. But I met with officials. All—[Interruption.] Go on then, you go next. Sorry, did I answer your question, Leanne?
The one issue I wanted to make is: you spoke about this as being a consultation that was just between the red and the blue route. For me, it's actually part of a much longer piece of work that's been evolving over a number of years since the original Aston hill improvement disappeared. Back in 2013-14, there were some large-scale studies done, north-east Wales integrated transport strategy being one of them, north-east Wales area-based transport strategy—various studies done to look at how we dealt with the implications of that decision not to accept the previous proposals for Aston hill. That's where, to my mind, there's a huge amount of work that's been done to try and build up the work on delivering alternatives to car-based access within that geography.
So, it's not just about red route or blue route; it's actually about a whole pile of other stuff—rail improvements, bus improvements, active travel improvements—that have to happen side by side with the road scheme. One of the reasons why it's critical is because we've got major businesses on Deeside who are telling us that they can't recruit, and, if they can recruit, their staff can't get into work. Because of where Deeside industrial park is based, and because of where the roads run, it's actually quite inaccessible for people from central north Wales and north-west Wales to access employment opportunities in Deeside, which is made worse by the fact that the public transport system is wholly inadequate in terms of being able to get them there.
Thank you very much.
Thanks, Leanne. Some questions from Neil McEvoy.
Thanks. I just wondered whether you share the campaigners' concerns about the environmental impacts.
Could I respond? Yes, I do. I met with officials—I'm an environmentalist myself; biodiversity champion at Flintshire—and I was really concerned about the road going through the ancient woodland. I was told that they're looking to build a viaduct over it by officials at this meeting. I don't think it's part of this report. I think the detail has got to be worked up. That's as much as I know at the moment.
And I don't think it impacts on the Dee estuary, because it's away from the Dee estuary.
Part of the problem is, of course, the detailed design proposals have yet to be finalised. So, there'll be elements of the scheme that—. We're basically hypothesising about how it's going to deal with certain aspects at the moment, because at the moment it's just the route that's been identified. The detailed design is—
Can I just say that officers from Flintshire County Council are working very closely with Welsh Government officials on the design of this scheme, looking at things like Carolyn's suggestion that the crawler lane is built first, because that will relieve the congestion ahead of the larger works? So, there is a really close working relationship developed with Welsh Government officers who are project managing this scheme.
Given what we were told earlier, only 0.24 per cent of woodland in the UK is ancient wet woodland—so, less than 1 per cent—and yet we're going to be doing away with a portion of it here, possibly.
Not if there's a viaduct being built over it, which is what I was told would be the solution.
It's fair to say that was the first comment we made to the officers from Welsh Government when we met them—our concerns for the ancient woodland.
And they told me there'd be mitigation—planting of native species, involving the local community as well, on the land purchased, so—. I'm sorry if this is new information. [Interruption.] Pardon, sorry?
You'd accept that you can't replace ancient woodland with new planted woodland. It's not a like for like.
Okay. I just wanted to get that on record.
And I would—. No.
What do you make of the M4 being cancelled down south in relation to the proposal for the red route up north?
I don't think it was council—. I don't know, sorry. I can't comment on that.
I think we're all waiting to see what the implications of that decision are. To my mind, there's a question as to whether the environmental impacts of that were so specific that it resulted in the scheme being cancelled, or whether it signifies a change or a shift in Government policy. I don't know the answer to that yet; we're waiting to hear. From my own perspective, I think it's absolutely essential that documents such as the Wales transport strategy are updated and reviewed as soon as possible. And if policy is going to change such that road schemes are not going to be delivered in future, then from our perspective we need to see a sustained and significant investment in alternative public transport infrastructure.
From a north Wales perspective, I know there are strong views in south Wales that you've been starved of rail investment, but I'll tell you what, compared to what north Wales has seen in the last 50 years, you've been embarrassed with riches compared to what we've seen. I agree with the point the petitioners made earlier on about rail fares being too high in north Wales. My pet hobby-horse subject on this is that if you took a train fare from Rhyl to Chester, and if that was charged at the same rate as Cardiff to Swansea, it would be about £6.70; in fact, it's about £16. So that's the level of penalty that north Wales is suffering in terms of its inability to use public transport for long-distance journeys. Some of the proposals that have been actively worked up by Welsh Government—for a new rail station at Deeside, which will provide access to people, an interchange at Shotton, so that people can connect between the north Wales coast mainline and the Wrexham-Bidston route—all of those are fundamental opportunities to get people into employment in Deeside without having to use private cars on an over-congested road network.
Before I finish, I just want to make a point about what you said about the south and the investment in the south. To be honest, a problem here is that some of the investment we just don't want. It's overdevelopment, but we've not had a choice; it's just been steamrollered through. I just wanted to make that point, that was all.
Okay. Some questions from Jack Sargeant now.
Thank you, Chair, and good morning, all—it's great to see you. How would the panel respond to the petitioners' comments that the cost of the red route option have been 'significantly underestimated'? Do you share that view, or have you got a response to that?
The estimates were provided by Welsh Government, and that wasn't part of the consultation. Clearly, the main infrastructure there would be the bridge, and that bridge is already there. And just to clarify a comment made earlier about the information on the bridge, we did do a survey a few years ago on the main Flintshire bridge—it is in the public realm, it's been released, it was a public document. It was a planned inspection, so all it did was give us a plan for the next 10 years. The bridge had been open 20 years, and, every 10 years, we do a regular inspection on that bridge. It didn't highlight any issues, other than regular maintenance operations that you'd expect of a bridge of that size and scale.
Just to confirm, that report is the report the petitioners made reference to earlier on.
Okay. Well, that answers my next question then. Finally, as the panel, do you recognise the petitioners' experience that traffic congestion within the area, and the overview of it, is usually heaviest at weekends and during holiday periods? Now, I know this myself—and rush hour. But also, I think there is some concern that the consultation was done between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.. Should that be relooked at? Do you think that's an adequate measure?
I read somewhere that one consultation was between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m., but I'm not sure which one it was. I remember it was highly publicised and promoted, because anything controversial is on Deeside.com, social media, in the press—as a councillor, I see all these things. So I know, if you were interested, you could find out when the consultations took place. One was at Northop college, which is close to the route, at the interchange. The other one was, I think, at the college at Connah's Quay, and there was one in Ewloe as well. And there might have been local ones. But that's what I remember. I think it was done two years ago now, between March and June two years ago.
Finally, just picking up on the traffic modelling side, did you see fit to delve deeper into that, or—?
My experience of the modelling is that, whilst the survey work may have been carried out over a fixed period, they are sufficiently robust to pick up expected peaks and troughs. So, traffic flows might have been used to validate the model. There are quite a lot of well-advanced models for that area, in terms of traffic modelling—we use it quite a lot for our own metro plans, and some of the work we do with the bus lanes. So I think, given the experience I've got with traffic modelling, and the interaction I've had with the Welsh Government model, I take some confidence in the accuracy of those models.
I don't agree that the transport and traffic issues are purely a weekend phenomenon—absolutely not. Anybody who uses the A55 regularly will know that there's a significant flow out of north Wales eastwards, down Aston Hill, and people are actually queuing coming down the hill, not just coming up the hill, at peak times. There are businesses whose staff are taking anything up to three quarters of an hour to get from the entrance of Deeside industrial park on to the A494. There's a statistic that is quoted quite frequently that 1 in 5 people who are offered jobs on Deeside industrial park turn it down because they can't get there, either because of the lack of public transport or because the congestion is a significant deterrent for them. So, it's not just a weekend thing, I agree, but it's especially bad at weekends. On Friday night and Saturday morning, the whole area is in gridlock at the moment, including every country lane anywhere between Deeside, Halkyn, Flint and Mold.
Thank you. I've got some final questions now from Michelle Brown.
I just wanted to ask a little supplementary on the question area that Jack was examining. You mentioned before that the detailed design work hasn't actually been done on the red route, so how confident can you actually be about the quoted cost of the red route when the detailed design work hasn't been done, no site surveys have been done, and presumably no quotes from prospective contractors have been brought in? So how can you possibly work up an accurate or even ballpark figure of how much the eventual project's going to cost? We've seen other projects quote a reasonably low cost, although it's fairly eye-watering to people initially, and then it just goes up and up and up and up and up and up and up. Are we not going to get that with the red route?
That’s a question for Welsh Government, isn't it? We're consultees on the proposals, so I think you need to ask Welsh Government that question.
I agree. It would be completely wrong of us to offer an opinion on Welsh Government's cost estimates, because that's what they are at the moment.
That's not our job, really.
Okay. You mentioned that you support the red route, but you would like a 'red route plus' system including the crawler lane that you mentioned, Carolyn. I used to use this route to commute every day. I know it like the back of my hand. When it comes to the traffic surveys, I'd just like to ask you: the petitioner said before in their evidence that the traffic surveys were actually done between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Monday to Thursday. Now, I take your point that the holidays and bank holidays aren't necessarily where a lot of the congestion is, although it is peak then, but shouldn't the traffic surveys have been done earlier so that there was a better picture of where that traffic was going? Because from personal experience, you go through that junction between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. and it's pretty clear. It's a nice run through it. So, particularly Stephen, what would you—?
As I said before, the area's been modelled for a number of years. This plan hasn't just materialised. There's a lot of information available to traffic modellers on the area. The document that you're referring to refers to the latest model that was undertaken, and that was obviously taken at those times that you said, but I think, given the other information that's available, I'm confident that the information that Welsh Government have to make the decision on the projected volumes on these roads would include some knowledge of the impact of the peak traffic volumes.
We've been trying to resolve it for 10 years. It's been ongoing for 10 years, this, so I think there's a lot of data. It probably just intensifies, I think—the traffic might intensify at certain times. That's my opinion on it.
How much of a benefit do you think the red route will be if you don't get the additional improvements such as the crawler lane and the improvement at Ewloe?
Like I said, it will benefit—it will take some of the traffic off the A494. It would benefit access to the Deeside industrial park, with 400 businesses and 9,000 jobs. They've been asking for that. It's part of the missing puzzle of the integrated transport plan that we're looking at as well, connecting to the rail and bus links that we've got in already. So, it is part of that as well. But we would like to have that crawler lane in; I think that could be easily achieved and in place beforehand.
I think the resilience of the red route in general is the main potential of the two routes into Wales. The number of times on a Friday evening when you just get a single breakdown on Aston hill or anywhere along that A55, and the queues are on the M56 within no time. It's that resilience that the red route brings.
Just one final question, because I don't want to take too much time. A couple of years ago, Flintshire County Council spent a substantial amount of money on a consultant report into the works required to bring Flintshire bridge up to standard. Has that report been published? I know that a number of councillors have been asking for it to be published.
We wouldn't normally publish it as a document. As I explained in answer to the previous question, it was part of our normal maintenance regime. The bridge, I think, was 20 years old at the time, so we brought a consultant in to do a full inspection of it, and that was for us to plan the next 10 years' maintenance. It wasn't published but it has been released, because I received an FOI. So, it's not as though it's not in the public realm, it just wasn't a published document.
Where's it been published?
It was requested through an FOI, but there's nothing in it that we wouldn't share with the public. It's like we do with all of our structures—we've got a duty to maintain and inspect our bridges, and we inspect that one but we don't publish that information, although it is publicly available.
Can you tell me what the projected, forecast maintenance costs of the Flintshire bridge will be over the next 10 years, assuming that the red route goes ahead and assuming that the red route doesn't go ahead?
I can't give you that information here—
Would you be able to give us that information?
—but I can provide that information to the committee, because that's what the report provided. It provided us with a 10-year life cycle, which would be minor inspections. We've just done some minor cable testing, which proved that everything is okay, so it gives you that kind of information. Just like with your house; it would explain the kind of things you'd do for the next 10 years to keep that bridge in good working order.
Could you provide a copy of the report to the committee?
Of course we can, absolutely, yes—no problem.
It was a big inspection that cost a lot of money.
But it wasn't £0.5 million—
Yes, £0.5 million.
No, it wasn't anywhere near that.
I did ask at the time, 'Was everything okay?', and it was, wasn't it?
But we can make it publicly available.
It would be good if we can have a copy of that.
I will send that to you.
Thank you. Thank you for your attendance. Any other comments you'd like to make before you go?
No. I think we've covered everything.
Thank you for coming. A copy of the transcript will be sent to you to check for any factual inaccuracies. We will now meet in private to consider the evidence we've heard and agree the next steps that we wish to take. Thank you for coming.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
I propose in accordance with Standing Order 17.42 that the committee resolves to meet in private for the remainder of this morning's meeting. Are Members content? Yes? Okay.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:33.
The public part of the meeting ended at 10:33.