Wednesday, July 25, 2012
NORTH WALES AND RAILWAY INFRASTRUCTURE
Describing it as the biggest investment in the railways since Victorian Times, it committed £9billion to upgrade transport links across the country.
For Wales, the main Great Western line between London Paddington and Swansea is to be electrified, cutting 20 minutes off the journey.
There is also going to be electrification of the South Wales Valleys lines, ensuring quicker access from some of the most economically deprived areas in the UK. And, more importantly, both of these investments complement the Welsh Government’s decision to award city region status to Cardiff and Swansea as a catalyst for attracting investment.
Whilst this is great news for the Welsh economy as a whole, those living in North Wales must wonder what they need to do to attract similar attention from Westminster and Cardiff Bay.
The good news is that the Secretary of State for Wales has made it absolutely clear that she will now be focusing on upgrading key routes in the North, including those to conurbations in North West England which, according to the latest census have arrested decades of decline and are actually growing again.
For example, Liverpool has recorded a 6 per cent growth in its population in the past decade, whilst Manchester recorded an increase of 19 per cent. Connecting North Wales to these growing urban areas are vital in getting both individuals and businesses to markets and job opportunities.
However, the holy grail in terms of attracting real investment remains the link to London. The fact that it takes the same time to travel between Bangor and Crewe on a diesel train as it does on the electrified route between Crewe and Euston, despite the former being only half the distance of the latter, speaks volumes for what can be done.
So how do we ensure that transport in North Wales is fully upgraded in the future?
One of the highlights of the campaign for electrification of the railways in South Wales was the way in which businesses, civic groups and politicians of all persuasions came together to make a strong case for the upgrading of the transport links. However, I would argue that this joined up approach in lobbying the Welsh and UK Governments for further investment has yet to happen in North Wales.
And while some may argue that we have missed the boat on obtaining significant funding for transport, I still believe that there remain various opportunities to obtain the estimated £300m needed to upgrade the railway infrastructure in North Wales.
For example, it is likely that the poorest parts of Wales, including Anglesey, Conwy, Denbighshire and Gwynedd, will qualify again for the highest level of European Structural Funding. Under such circumstances, and given the fact that the UK Government is picking up the tab for rail improvements in South Wales, one would hope that the Welsh Government will prioritise these funds to pay for a large proportion of the transport links needed in North Wales, thus ensuring a lasting legacy from the billions of pounds of European funding allocated to the region.
And by working closely with the Irish Government, it must also make sure that those road and rail links across North Wales, and that form part of the transport network that connects Dublin to mainland Europe, get their fair share of the £50bn that will be allocated by the European Union to core transport routes in 2014.
So, the hard work begins now and it is critical that the local business, political and civic communities across North Wales come together to make a strong case, as happened in South Wales, for the region to get the attention and funding it deserves in terms of transport infrastructure improvements. (Daily Post column, 23rd July 2012)