A “MASSIVE” up-front investment in the transport system financed by road charging is needed to end gridlock around the Welsh capital, according to Cardiff Chamber of Commerce.
In a major report published yesterday it claimed that congestion is becoming a “stranglehold” on the economy. The authors estimate investment worth £500m is needed to prevent Wales falling behind other areas of Britain.
The call came on the same day Shadow Secretary of State for Transport Theresa Villiers visited the region to discuss recent motorway accidents and the planned M4 Relief Road around Newport.
Two fatal crashes in two months have brought road safety to the forefront of the political agenda and shut down stretches of the M4 for hours.
The Chamber of Commerce believes action is needed to upgrade the nation’s road, rail, air and sea links.
Claire Saralis, head of policy, said people in the business community would be prepared to swap cars for public transport if this was a viable alternative.
She said, “The idea was to take the debate forward and move on from the ‘if’ to the ‘when‘ and ‘how’.”
Key recommendations include a dual-lane ring-road around the capital and a motorway link to the airport. A key aim of road charging, she said, would be to “raise enough revenue to improve public transport and give people a real alternative to private cars”.
Congestion levels, she insisted, could not be allowed to rise.
“The cost to business of congestion is absolutely massive. The key message we’ve been getting is we have to do something now.”
Executives did not expect the Government to finance the entire upgrade of the infrastructure, she said, acknowledging it was a “shared responsibility”.
Ms Villiers agreed that road charges could be a tool to improve transport policy but sounded a note of caution.
She said, “What I think is very important is they should only go ahead when they have strong local consent and support... [It’s] important to make sure it’s the right scheme in the right place.
“One of the significant weaknesses of the London [congestion charge] is administration costs are so expensive.”
Ms Villiers said it was a matter of “social justice” that an alternative mode of transport was in place before charging began.
The best way to encourage people to use public transport, she argued, was to make it a more attractive option. “My role is not to bully or hector anyone out of their cars,” she said.
Faster and more reliable train services would create new commercial opportunities, she added, saying, “I recognise how high-speed rail in Europe has had a dramatic impact on their regional economies.”
Transport policy in Wales is now the responsibility of Plaid Cymru leader Ieuan Wyn Jones in the coalition government with Labour.
A spokesman said, “The Welsh Assembly Government welcomes the report and the Minister will consider it.
“We believe that road pricing can play a role in helping to tackle congestion and address climate change, but it has to be part of a package of measures including significantly improved public transport to provide realistic alternatives to the car.”
The Green Party has opposed Mr Jones’s support for the M4 Relief Road.
Jake Griffiths, secretary of the Cardiff branch of the party, said, “It was hoped that Plaid entering government would bring fresh thinking to transport planning in Wales and challenge Welsh Labour’s road building programme.
“Ieuan Wyn Jones’ support for the M4 Relief Road however has shown that Plaid is also committed to encouraging traffic growth with resulting greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, and damage to natural habitats.”
Ambitions to cut carbon emissions in Wales will not be realised unless the growth in car use is curtailed, he said.
“Wales is one of only three governments worldwide which must promote sustainable development as part of its statutory duty – this decision calls this into question.”