Posted: Tue 28th Mar 2023

Welsh Government says there is “already a Minister for North Wales” after calls for a Metro Mayor

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Tuesday, Mar 28th, 2023

The Welsh Government has responded to calls for a ‘Metro’ style Mayor for north Wales saying it already has a Minister who “champions” the region.

‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​Former Alyn and Deeside Labour Party Chair Askar Sheibani (pictured top right) the Chief Executive of Comtek Network Systems has launched a campaign for north Wales to have its own Metro Mayor to “ensure the region doesn’t continue to miss out on funding.”​

Many major road schemes have been cancelled by the Welsh Government following recommendations by an independent committee, the move led to criticism that people in North Wales have been ignored.

Mr Sheibani, the current chairman of Deeside Business Forum, said the move to cancel major road projects will “hamstring the area’s manufacturing industry and its potential to provide a major source of cheap, green energy for the country‌.”

The decision to axe the road schemes was announced by Welsh Government deputy minister for climate change, Lee Waters MS earlier this month.

Among the casualties are the improvements to the A483 around Wrexham which would be axed along with the Red Route which would have seen a new eight-mile stretch of dual carriageway linking the A55 at Northop with the A494 and A550 north of Deeside Parkway Junction via the Flintshire Bridge. ‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Mr Sheibani the current chairman of Deeside Business Forum, said the move was “yet another example of how the North-South divide” putting the region at a huge disadvantage. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

He said: “In 2017 Ken Skates, as Transport Minister, announced £100 million for that Red Route and now we have a junior minister coming along and saying that isn’t going to happen – the reputational damage is incredible.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

He said the only solution is to devolve power to North Wales with a Metro Mayor “who could represent the region’s interests.”

​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​Mr Sheibani said: “These roads are the major arteries for transport into North Wales from the North West of England and the West Midlands, but decisions have been made in Cardiff which will have a detrimental effect on the development of this region. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

A real Minister for North Wales

He said: “We need a real Minister for North Wales, our own Metro Mayor, to help us become the northern powerhouse we can be with our own devolved budget and the ability to make decisions. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“The North Wales Metro Mayor would still be answerable to the Welsh Government but would have economic decision-making powers and a separate administration that would provide the strong local leadership to transform our economy beyond belief.” ‌

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We already have a dedicated Minister for North Wales in the Cabinet who champions the north and it’s many strengths and opportunities.”

The spokesperson said Lesley Griffiths, MS for Wrexham and Minister for north Wales (pictured top left) “chairs the Cabinet sub-committee for North Wales which meets every quarter and includes all Cabinet Ministers and Local Authority leaders.”

“It is a valued forum which allows the challenges and opportunities facing the region to be raised and discussed at the very highest level.”

“Our Programme for Government includes a number of commitments specifically for North Wales, including the establishing of a North Wales Medical School and progress with the North Wales Metro.”

There has been controversy since the announcement of the findings of an expert review panel, led by transport consultant Dr Lynn Sloman, which assessed 59 road projects across Wales. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Only 15 will now go ahead, all in South Wales, with the rest, including all those in North Wales, rejected or substantially revised and that decision attracted criticism from Clwyd South AM and former Economy Minister, Ken Skates who was in charge of transport policy as recently as 2021. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

He claimed the review had ignored citizens in North Wales and failed to engage with key people and public representatives in the area. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Mr Skates said he was concerned that “the panel didn’t actually engage with any communities, as far as I’m aware. It didn’t engage with locally elected members. The engagement with council highways officers was very poor.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

He said: “What we had is a diktat which says basically a decision has been made 140 miles away, that vitally important infrastructure works will not go ahead, and by the way, there are no alternatives that we can tell you about today.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Mr Sheibani believes the decision also reflects a lack of understanding of the potential for growth in the North and he said: “Our economy is very different to that of the rest of Wales and there are far greater opportunities here than in South Wales. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​”

“We have a port in Holyhead plus access to a major port at Liverpool and two international airports, Manchester and Liverpool, which connect us with the rest of the world. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​”

“The Deeside and Wrexham Industrial Estates make this the largest engineering and advanced manufacturing hub in Europe and 34 per cent of our workforce is involved in manufacturing – the UK average is 10 per cent. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​”

“Our companies don’t just supply Airbus, they also supply Boeing and the Ministry of Defence, and they employ a highly-skilled workforce. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​” He said.

The Welsh Government spokesperson said: “If we’re going to reach NetZero by 2050, we must shift to looking after the roads we already have and investing in more sustainable transport.”

“The North Wales Transport commission has been established to speak to stakeholders in the region to develop sustainable modes of transport.”

Mr Sheibani said: “Compared with South Wales, North Wales has far greater potential but we’re spending a lot of money in the south where the return on investment is far lower. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“Rolls-Royce have earmarked North Wales as one of three potential sites to build the new Small Modular Reactors for nuclear energy but they won’t come unless the road infrastructure is fit for purpose.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​He said.

North Wales transport issues came into focus on Monday as a prominent rail user group voiced significant concerns about the management and operation of the Wrexham-Bidston line by Transport for Wales (TfW).

The Wrexham Bidston Rail User Association said there is an increasing “chorus of voices” suggesting that the Borderlands Line should be handed over to a different operator, such as Merseyrail, which would have a stronger focus on the Mersey-Dee region, instead of remaining with TfW, an organisation perceived as both South Wales-based and oriented.

There have been three fires involving Class 175 trains in recent weeks. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​ ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

TfW said last week that maintenance checks have found that some of the trains need further repairs to the engines before they come back into passenger service. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

As a result, disruption to passenger services is likely to continue into early April. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

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