Active travel components of Welsh Government road schemes are being reduced to compensate for increased construction costs, Sustrans Cymru has claimed.
Since 2013 Welsh ministers have been under an obligation to include provision for walkers and cyclists in road schemes. The Active Travel (Wales) Act’s design guidance says: “It is important that active travel modes are properly planned and designed for from the outset, rather than being seen as an ‘add-on’ once the needs of motor traffic have been considered.”
Steve Brooks, Sustrans Cymru’s national director, told an Assembly inquiry into the state of Welsh roads this week: “Despite the passage of the Active Travel Act, active travel provision can still be marginalised within major infrastructure projects.” He said active travel enhancements included in the A483 Newtown bypass project had “steadily been dropped as the costs of the de-trunking elements increase”.
He said Sustrans Cymru’s initial experience of Early Contractor Involvement on the A465 dualling project had been positive, with early engagement on design of active travel elements. “However, we note that in many cases the final build differs considerably from agreed designs and can be considered to be below current active travel guidance standards, for example providing only narrow footways where wider shared use paths were specified or a footbridge where a shared cycle/footbridge was agreed.
“This often relates to the project requiring cost savings in its later stages … but this should not automatically result in active travel infrastructure being cut on the perception that it is ‘less important’.”
The Government is in dispute with Costain over a 23% cost increase for the current section of A465 dualling, between Gilwern and Brynmawr.
Asked about the Newtown situation, a government spokesman said: “Active travel provisions have been included as part of the Newtown bypass scheme and we recently completed an active travel route that will link Newtown to the Mochdre Industrial Estate.”
The County Surveyors Society Wales, representing local authority highways and transportation officers, told the inquiry that achieving the Active Travel Act’s aims will not be easy. Chair Stuart Davies said: “Embedding the design principles of the Act in all schemes is a positive move but it should be acknowledged that this often comes with further costs.”
Ed Evans, director of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association Wales, said the Act and the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 were too recent to enable judgement on whether Wales was managing and enhancing roads sustainably.
“What is clear is that greater effort needs to be made to embed these pieces of legislation into the activities of those responsible for delivering highway services, particularly into the processes for justifying and prioritising investment. Many will be familiar with the economic focus for justification and setting priorities, and also the focus on motorised vehicles as being the primary beneficiaries of roads investment.”
Evans added: “If the Active Travel Act is to start making an impact, then the needs of cyclists and pedestrians need to be given a far higher priority in terms of any decision-making process.”
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