Joyce Watson AM’s ‘Politically Speaking’ column
As a regional member, I spend quite a bit of time driving to and from events and meetings across mid and West Wales. So as well as enjoying our more picturesque routes, I am all too familiar with the bottlenecks! Thanks to £92 million of Welsh Government investment, Newtown will soon not be one of them. At the Senedd, transport minister Ken Skates recently confirmed the bypass is on-track to open next year, on time and in budget. Also in the pipeline, work on a new bridge across the River Dyfi, north of Machynlleth, is scheduled to start in the autumn.
It is not just about cars, though. One way to alleviate congestion is to get more people onto public transport. That is why Welsh Labour is committed to delivering public transport that is affordable, reliable and convenient. It might not feel like it, but winter is officially over as far as the Welsh Government’s free winter rail travel scheme goes. However, on the buses, free weekend travel for all still applies across the Traws Cymru bus network, including Newtown to Cardiff. The government-funded pilot scheme runs until May.
Rail passengers will soon learn who will operate the Wales and Borders franchise from October. It won’t be Arriva, we know. The current operator pulled out of the bidding process last year. Nor will it be Abellio. The Dutch-owned company was forced to withdraw its £5 billion bid last week, following the collapse of its construction partner Carillion. That leaves two bidders, MTR and KeolisAmey. Until then, for the remainder of Arriva’s tenure and thanks to £1.5 million of Welsh Government money, every single train will at last provide free-to-use Wi-Fi.
Another way to ease congestion, of course, particularly in our town centres, is to encourage more people to get around under their own steam. These days we call it Active Travel and it was one of the topics discussed when the First Minister visited Newtown two weeks ago for one of his regular scrutiny committee meetings. One of the key principles of devolution is bringing politicians and the public we serve closer together. So I am all for taking more Assembly business out and about. Hafren theatre and Newtown College kindly hosted the session. As the First Minister said, the Active Travel Act, which I voted to pass 5 years ago, means better transport no longer equates more roads. Bikes and walking routes should be considered too – byways as well as highways. Thanks to that philosophy, Welsh Government last month awarded more than £8 million to councils to implement Active Travel projects. Powys will get more than half a million for schemes in Llandrindod Wells and Newtown, as well as to deliver the next phase of the Montgomery Canal scheme and for cycling routes in Ystradgynlais. Brilliant news. But I think I’ll stay indoors until the ‘beast from the east’ has safely passed!