Impact of Covid and costs need re calculating before work on £300m Deeside Red Route begins
Campaigners opposed the construction of a new four lane highway across ancient Flintshire woodland have welcomed recommendations set out by a Senedd Committee following 18 months of deliberations.
Work on the £300m Deeside ‘Red Route’ is expected to begin in 2024 but the impact of the Covid pandemic and the long term changes in travel patterns should be fully assessed, members of the Senedd Petitions Committee have said.
The scheme will see a new 13km two-lane dual carriageway linking the A55 at Northop with the A494 and A550 north of Deeside Parkway Junction via the Flintshire Bridge.
The Red Route was chosen ahead of an alternative Blue Route scheme following a 12-week consultation in 2017.
The Blue Route plan would have seen improvements along the A494 Aston Hill and the Ewloe interchange with the A55 without the need for a new road being built.
A petition was raised in early 2019 by local residents in the Northop and Flint areas concerned about the impact on traffic around their communities and the poor consultation of the scheme. It attracted 1409 signatures.
The scheme was developed alongside what was called the ‘north-east Wales area based transport study’ which has since become the North East Wales Metro.
The Metro scheme aims to deliver “sustainable, reliable, efficient and quality integrated transport network across the region” with improved rail access and integrated transport hubs
The Red Route is an integral part of Metro, Transport Minister Ken Skates said during petitions committee evidence session,
He said the scheme has been designed to ‘liberate’ road space for public transport.
“If the red route is stopped, essentially and effectively, Metro is stopped, and with it we will see a reduction in the proportion of people using public transport.” Mr Skates said in the earlier evidence session.
The Petitions Committee – which is made up of cross part Senedd members – has now published a number recommendations.
It has called for detailed design work on the scheme to be halted until the effects of the Covid-19 “both in terms of its affordability and due to the potential for there to be long-term changes to travel patterns and behaviour.”
The Committee said: “Demand for public transport has significantly dropped during the
“Whilst this could result in further reliance on the private motor car and therefore the potential for increased traffic congestion in the area.”
“The Welsh Government has also been clear that it supports working from home as a long term policy shift.”
That evidence should also be made available for consideration as part of any public inquiry which will be held prior to the start of construction.
It has also called for a detailed re-assessment of all costs associated with the scheme is undertaken and published.
Initial Red Route construction costs were stated at around £250m however, we revealed in 2019 that costs had increased by nearly 18 percent to £300m in just two years.
Accounting for the scheme should include any upgrades required to the Flintshire Bridge, including wind proofing, the Committee has said.
The Transport Minister said that the Welsh Government is “not anticipating needing to upgrade the Flintshire Bridge”
During oral evidence, told the Committee that the bridge is currently being “underused”.
He stated that: “The maximum capacity would still allow a very significant increase in the number of vehicles using it and that’s why we are confident that the Flintshire bridge, even though it was designed more than two decades ago, is still capable of taking significant additional traffic.”
During the same session the Welsh Government did acknowledge that additional wind proofing measures may be required on the bridge to reduce the need for closures during high winds, which the petitioners suggest many present “additional engineering challenges associated with retro fitting wind shielding”.
Welsh Government must also ensure that “adequate consultation is undertaken with organisations including the Woodland Trust and Natural Resources Wales during the detailed design stage of the scheme to mitigate and minimise any impacts on areas of ancient woodland.” The Committee has recommended.
Committee chair Janet Finch-Saunders, Conservative MS for Aberconwy, said there had been strong opinions on both sides of the argument heard by the committee.
She said: “The committee has concluded that it would be prudent for the Welsh Government to consider the longer-term impact of the pandemic on work and travel patterns, before it commits to further detailed design work and a final decision on whether or not the new road should be built.”
Speaking on behalf of petitioners, Professor Tom Rippeth said: “We thank the committee for their hard work in the past 21 months in scrutinising the processes leading to the Red Route decision and we broadly welcome the recommendations.”
“Clearly the COVID pandemic is a game changer, particularly with the Welsh Government policy rightly to facilitate more home working in post-COVID Wales.”
“Our calculations show that the impact of this policy we see a bigger reduction in commuter traffic in the Deeside Corridor than the £300 million Red Route is designed to achieve.”
“However, the committee have also highlighted further significant concerns over processes applied in reaching the Red Route decision.”
“Moreover they have highlighted significant additional costs associated with the need to upgrade the Flintshire Bridge and the additional ‘Red Route Plus’ work demanded by Flintshire County Council in exchange for support for the scheme.”
“We have already seen a spiralling in costs of the scheme from £210 million in 2017 to over £300 last, with all of these additional costs it is easy to imagine the final constructions being being double those originally envisage, which couple with the COVID related fall in commuter traffic suggests it will no longer be value for money.”
“We hope that all candidates in the upcoming Senedd elections will read this report and, if elected, ensure that its recommendations are carried out.”
A public inquiry into the scheme is likely and that’s likely to take place in the summer of 2023 and then dependent on the outcome of the inquiry, construction could begin in late 2024.
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