|David J. Rowlands AC|
|Hefin David AC|
|Joyce Watson AC|
|Lee Waters AC|
|Mark Isherwood AC|
|Russell George AC||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Duncan Buchanan||Cyfarwyddwr Polisi, Cymdeithas Cludiant Ffyrdd|
|Director of Policy, Road Haulage Association|
|Ed Evans||Cyfarwyddwr ac ysgrifennydd, Cymdeithas Contractwyr Peirianneg Sifil Cymru|
|Director and Secretary, Civil Engineering Contractors Association Wales|
|Gareth Mole||Cyfarwyddwr Peirianneg, Bws Caerdydd|
|Engineering Director, Cardiff Bus|
|John Pockett||Cyfarwyddwr, Cydffederasiwn Cludiant Teithwyr Cymru|
|Director, Confederation of Passenger Transport Wales|
|Keith Jones||Cyfarwyddwr, Sefydliad y Peirianwyr Sifil Cymru|
|Director, Institution of Civil Engineers Wales Cymru|
|Kris Moodley||Ysgol Peirianneg Sifil, Prifysgol Leeds|
|School of Civil Engineering, University of Leeds|
|Sally Gilson||Pennaeth Ymgyrchu Sgiliau, Sefydliad Trafnidiaeth Cludo Nwyddau|
|Head of Skills Campaigning, Freight Transport Association|
|Stuart Davies||Cadeirydd, Cymdeithas Syrfewyr Sirol Cymru|
|Chair, County Surveyors Society Wales|
|Yr Athro Nigel Smith||Ysgol Peirianneg Sifil, Prifysgol Leeds|
|School of Civil Engineering, University of Leeds|
|Robert Lloyd-Williams||Dirprwy Glerc|
|1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau||1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest|
|2. Yr Athro Nigel Smith—Cyflwr y Ffyrdd yng Nghymru (Drwy fideogynhadledd)||2. Professor Nigel Smith—State of Roads in Wales (Via video-conference)|
|3. Panel peirianneg—Cyflwr y Ffyrdd yng Nghymru||3. Engineering panel—State of Roads in Wales|
|4. Sefydliadau defnyddwyr ffyrdd—Cyflwr y Ffyrdd yng Nghymru||4. Road users organisations—State of Roads in Wales|
|5. Papurau i'w nodi||5. Papers to note|
|6. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod||6. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:16.
The meeting began at 09:16.
Bore da. Good morning. I'd like to welcome Members to the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee. I move to item 1. We have apologies this morning from Adam Price, and Vikki Howells is in another committee this morning so won't be joining us, and I understand Hefin David will be joining us shortly.
I move to item 2, in regard to the start of our inquiry into the state of roads in Wales. This is the first session this morning and we have a witness this morning on our video-conference. I would be very grateful if Professor Nigel Smith—could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your role, just for the public record?
Certainly. Thank you for letting us talk to you today. I am a civil engineer by background and worked in the industry for 17 years. Now, I'm at Leeds university; it's a chair for project and transport infrastructure management. I've been involved in looking at transport, mainly rail and road, across Europe for the European Parliament, European Council of Ministers of Transport, the National Audit Office, and for yourselves three years ago in 2015. My colleague, Kris Moodley, is an expert in whole-life asset management highways maintenance efficiency programme and has been working on this throughout with me.
Lovely, thank you. Thank you as well for your time this morning. Can I ask you what's your assessment of the state of Welsh roads?
From the last bit of evidence that we gave you, we've actually noticed that there hasn't really been a significant change in the state of Welsh roads. So, given the circumstances of the last few years, the state of the roads in Wales pretty much remains consistent with the evidence that we presented in the past few years. So, in terms of generic conditions—safety, et cetera—the roads are still in reasonable condition, but that is not saying that that cannot change going forward.
We have no evidence to find that you weren't getting—your value for money was not getting worse. It seems to be about the same as it was before. But, unfortunately, the detailed figures for the last winter that we've had, which was much harsher than normal, may have had an extra effect on the deterioration of the road carriageway. But, we haven't got the evidence to support that yet.
It seems to me, from the information that I've read ahead of this report, that the condition of the trunk roads and motorway network is improved more significantly, but that's not the case with local roads, which are the responsibility of local authorities across Wales. Why would that be?
I think partly it's a question of priority and funding. I'll point to the evidence that the South Wales Trunk Road Agent have provided. They're using a whole-life asset management approach and they have a dedicated budget to be able to deal with problems as they arise. One of the problems with most of the local roads funding is that it's not hypothecated, but it is shared between other priorities and other needs that people have, and therefore there tend to be different priorities from a different local authority to a different local authority as to who decides how much is spent on potholes and a worst-is-best-type strategy and how much money is dedicated to looking at upgrading the whole asset value of the network. So, it's not just in Wales—I think the position in England is the same—that a lot of the non-motorway and strategic road network roads are, in fact, slightly worse than they were three years ago.
You mentioned England—is there a great deal of difference between the condition of roads between local authorities in England, because that seems to be the case in Wales? Is that the case in other pats of the UK?
Yes, that is the case. It comes down to, as Nigel said, the funding pressures on local authorities. So, in a local authority that has to balance the roads budget with, maybe, social care, very often you find that the roads tends to be neglected. Also, there's quite a big divide between what you would describe as authorities that have much more rural roads and authorities that are in urban areas, because what you find is that the condition of roads, particularly the C roads and undefined roads—there is a tendency for them to get neglected. So, what you find is that the urban roads tend to be generically in better condition, while the rural roads tend to be—sorry, in the authorities that have rural roads, they seem to be in a worse state of neglect. But if you look across the spread in England, you will find serious differences between local authorities, and it really comes down to, as Nigel has said, priorities in funding and very much reacting rather than doing something that is proactive. What we also find is that some local authorities, and if I use the two examples of Leicestershire and Surrey, have actually seemed to have got ahead of the other local authorities, because they've actually taken a much more futuristic outlook in terms of maintenance and repair.
I think the other thing I would add to what Kris has just said is that the one thing that has changed significantly in England over the last three years is that the local authorities have adopted whole-life asset management. Highway maintenance asset management is now being used on the motorway strategic road network roads and all the local roads. So, we're planning one approach, but whatever level it's applied at, it's still based on a whole-life asset management approach, and that's a big change from where it was three years ago.
Okay, thank you, both. We'll probably dive into some more detailed questions later on. I'm going to come now to Joyce Watson.
Good morning. You mention in your paper the importance of effective, routine maintenance of the trunk road network for achieving value for money in delivering maintenance programmes. So, in your opinion, how should maintenance be managed to minimise disruption to the road users?
When we look at maintenance, one of the big elements of maintenance is the planning regime—so, looking at how you would plan going forward. When it comes to disruption, realistically, there are two choices you've got in that type of regime: one is you cause disruption for a longer period and drag out the work, or the other alternative is you have pain for a shorter length of time in the way in which you go forward. But also, what is quite important, in terms of the whole road maintenance philosophy, is that if you are going to dig up a road, it's to try and dig up that road only once. So, part of the emerging strategy would be making sure that, if utilities are going to put replacements into roads, you co-ordinate with them and you develop your roads programme with other interested parties. So, that's one of the ways in which you reduce disruption.
The other thing we need to mention—you very kindly attached the evidence we gave to the Public Accounts Committee three years ago. In that evidence we shared some deterioration curves that show how the highway and carriageway deteriorates over a period of time. But it's choosing the appropriate time for the level of intervention that gives you best value for money. All roads will deteriorate, but if you manage to do a resurfacing before they reach a critical point, then you get good value for money, you get a longer term—maybe 20 years to 25 years—of operation and you get good value for money in terms of having to come back to that problem. If you are going to let something deteriorate too far, then you might get potholes that may require a full fix instantly for safety reasons, which may cost you 20 times the cost of a standard carriageway replacement, and it also won't last as long—it will tend to deteriorate and break down. So, the reason your trunk roads seem to be doing quite well is that they have a dedicated budget, and they are following these maintenance curves and the level of intervention they're putting in is at the optimum time.
You've already mentioned, and you talk about it in your paper, that effective maintenance is achieved by asset management plans. I suppose the question is how those plans should be developed and what they should contain. Because we've also had evidence from Welsh local authorities that refers to the fact that they do produce highway asset management plans.
One of possibly the best examples that I can give you, which are mentioned in the paper, is the way in which Transport for Scotland decided to deal with their highways maintenance. What Transport for Scotland found was that—they realised that the budgets that they were likely to have were going to reduce over time. So, they undertook quite extensive studies on, say, 'What is the likely future state of our roads and what sort of plans do we need to put in place?' And what they decided to do was to take worst case as opposed the best case. And from that they developed a series of emerging asset management plans that allowed them to become much more responsive to the challenges that they were facing. So, very much they factored into their thinking things like possible climate change, particularly changes in temperature. They looked at road demand, road use and, ultimately, they started prioritising, through their asset management planning, which roads and what interventions were needed to cover, not just what you might call the pure highways engineering side, but also the broader economic issues that had to be addressed if the roads were not what they wanted. So, their evolution was much more strategic in nature, rather than, if you want to say, developing a maintenance plan that is just purely condition driven.
If I can, Chair—. You mentioned asset management plans and you talked about environmental changes. One of the things that I think we're all aware of is that the surface water run-off on roads isn't, maybe, as good as it used to be, because the ditches aren't being cleared either side of those roads. Have you looked at the impact of that on the condition of roads?
Well, we started to do that. It's a common problem, not just in Wales, but we do get examples of surface water causing damage by overflowing or leaving debris on the road. In fact, the A1(M) here, just up the road from Leeds, was closed for three days while they had to remove debris from the three carriageways that had been brought down by surface run-off. It seems that as climate change factors develop, then either increasing draining capacity or changing the ways in which we do things becomes increasingly important. But it's also changes in precipitation and rainfall that are important, as well as surface run-off, because if we have any cracks suddenly longitudinal or transverse in the carriageway, water gets into those cracks and that's what starts to cause the damage. It's estimated that for every 1 per cent increase in precipitation, there's a 1 per cent increase in the highway budget, and we're forecast in western England and Wales to have an increase of between 8 and 10 per cent over the next 15 years, so that will be another stress, another addition, to the standard highway maintenance budget.
And what would you recommend that we could do, or should be done, to negate the impact of that?
Well, once again, when we look at the roads, the roads tend to be—people tend to look at just the pavements, but I think, as you rightly point out, we have to look at issues with drainage, and it sort of comes into what the Environment Agency would describe as a broader space for water strategy, where it's not just putting water into the physical infrastructure, which would be the drainage, but also looking at areas alongside roads that might be holding areas to where the water is allowed to run off, and be collected in these areas. So, again, it is not just the road's physical infrastructure, but it is adjoining areas, where this might actually be put forward. So, one of the strategies that the Environment Agency in England is promoting is making space for water, and I think surplus run-off water is one of those particular areas. What is very, very difficult to identify clearly is—there isn't a lot of research associated with surface flooding. So, that is one of the problems in terms of where you make recommendations, so we're looking at it from a much broader perspective.
As I say in the paper, there are nearly 1,000 km of roads in Wales that are subject to potential flooding and surface water run-off damage. And the key thing is to make sure that, when any improvement to the carriageway is done, it's also done to the associated drainage. There's no point just repairing the carriageway, and leaving the drains in a poor condition—it has to be integrated. It has to be a more resilient approach, rather than just a maintenance approach.
Thank you. We've got about three subject areas to cover, and time is a little short. We're due to finish at about 9.45 a.m., but we can go over a little bit—that's fine—but we could just do with being a little bit more pointed in the questions and answers. So, we've got three more sections, and I'm going to come to David, then Mark, and then Lee. David Rowlands next.
Can I explore matters around funding and organisation of highway maintenance in Wales? Professor Smith, would you agree with Arup's suggestion that maintenance planning in Wales is fragmented too regionally to permit effective prioritisation of work, particularly in light of the fact that you recommended that a single body should take responsibility for motorway and trunk maintenance, as opposed to the two trunk road agents that we have at the moment? And following on from that, if I could just go on to say: is it enough that the planning functions have been centralised within the Welsh Government? Is that sufficient?
I think I would broadly agree with the Arup view of what is going on, and, certainly, three years ago, we made the point that I think a common approach for Wales—it would probably be best to be in one authority, but the approach is more important than the position or the base of the authority. I think one of the problems that surprised me, looking at the other evidence you had—I think it was from Denbighshire and somewhere else—was that the two regional authorities have quite a different approach to how they were actually prioritising the maintenance. And I think, as Transport Scotland showed us, having a unified approach across the whole network is really what's important. You can then decide where you want to invest in improving the roads, and where you're going to get your best value for money. Whereas, if you have different people, partly with hypothecated or non-hypothecated budgets, and also with different priorities, it becomes a bit of a game of chance, in a way—it's not a planned, integrated strategy.
I would concur with Professor Smith, but one of the other benefits that's emerged from Scotland is the idea that you've now got centralised knowledge sharing. So, a big part of the Scottish approach, by having a single authority, or a single body, is actually the sharing of knowledge and the development of understanding, but also a central body spreading that information to their local authorities when it's been devolved at a local level. So, that's one of the other advantages to have emerged from that system.
Fine. The fact that both TRAs and indeed local government have said that their funding levels are falling as such and that the gains they've made over the recent improvements in road conditions et cetera could be lost because the local government borrowing initiative is now being ended—do you have any comments on that?
Yes. I think that one of the things about funding is that, as funding declines or potentially declines, it does bring bigger challenges to the various bodies that control the roads, simply because some of the gains will be lost. It's sort of making sure that you can keep the cycle going in terms of maintenance and keeping the condition at a level that you want in terms of representing value, both socially and economically.
I think that's the trouble. Once you start saying we're going to either not repair as frequently and we may get the carriageway deteriorating or we're going to repair it to a lower standard or with poorer quality materials, then it gets to be a bit of a vicious circle. You start finding that you are getting worse value for money, you're getting worse service from the roads, and it's a false economy not to actually invest in upgrading carriageways at the appropriate level of intervention because it ends up costing you, we reckon, between 17 and 19 times more to do odd fixes rather than doing planned asset management upgrading.
Now, we've heard from a number of organisations that the fact that the funding comes on an annual basis rather than, as I think is suggested, a three-year basis, is not the most effective way to arrange this for either the authorities or the TRAs to plan ahead and spend money in the way that they feel they ought be spending it. Do you have a comment on that?
I think that's very true. We're now moving and Highways England are looking at it, as are Transport Scotland. Transport Scotland are looking at a short-term prognosis—one to three years—and then a longer term of 15 years and looking at building up investment plans to cover both of those requirements. I think the old idea that we've got to March and we've got some money left in our budgets and we'd better start some works quickly before the money is taken away and reinvested, which was the bad old days when I was working for contractors many years ago—it's not quite as bad as it was, but there is still an element of that in some local authorities.
Yes. The other matter that is often spoken about is the fact that the funding comes late in the year and you have this spiking effect in March where, obviously, the local authorities and the TRAs are trying to get matters done before the end of the financial year. It has problems, of course, for suppliers for those contractors, such as quarries et cetera, and the labour force that's involved in that spiking business. So, do you have any comments on that?
I think that one of the things that's probably worth mentioning is that, if you look at the way in which, say, the water companies operate, they tend to operate on a five-year cycle, and, therefore, if you look at a water company in a five-year cycle, they will be doing routine maintenance as well as new capital work or major renewals. The cash flows tend to be much flatter. The spiking effect has actually been reduced. What you then tend to find is that you're getting better returns in terms of value for money and potentially driving down costs. If you take water as an example, they started with a five-year cycle. They're now actually looking at a 10-year cycle, potentially. So, once again, if you can justify why you want to change it—. So, I think, in the water sector, the contractors tend to be a lot happier because there aren't these sorts of spikes and all the suppliers and the supply chain actually work on that basis. So, all I can say is that those lessons almost need to be coming into the road sector and to find some way of making sure that the funding operates on a longer cycle.
Thank you. Good morning. The English highways maintenance efficiency programme, as I think you've already indicated, recognises that prevention is better than cure. How might a programme like that benefit Wales?
What the HME programme actually sets out to do is to almost try and reduce things like spikes of funding, making sure that we're trying to reduce inefficiencies, reduce costs. One of the immediate benefits for Wales, I believe, would be that you would have a common, or a fairly similar, template under which to look at all the authorities and the way in which they're performing. So, the template suggests that there are certain things that you can actually improve in terms of asset management, in terms of maintenance, in terms of collaboration, in terms of contractual structures. But also, what HMEP also gave a lot of local authorities is this idea—coming back to the Transport for Scotland idea—of knowledge sharing. So, what we have in HMEP now is a number of authorities that are regarded as good examples, or examples of excellence. There is the idea that they go and help other authorities, particularly in areas in which they see themselves as not being particularly good. Also, through HMEP, there is an informal audit procedure to look at authorities that are deemed not to be performing. So, I think it's about creating clear structures, but also looking at how the sector as a whole can raise standards.
Just one thing to add to what Kris has said: I think the benefits for Wales would come in having a single set of key performance indicators and data, and then, if everyone is applying the same process, those key performance indicators are common. So, we're not getting someone thinking their bit of road is more important than a bit of road somewhere else, based on no firm information. The fact that your asset management approach is the same, and the fact that your indicators are the same, means you're likely to get investment where it's needed in Wales, rather than in particular locations that happen to have more money one year or happen to be using a different process.
Just, if I can add, one of the indicators that is driving a lot of what is going on on the HME programme is customer satisfaction, where it is looking at not just the road users but the general public and their perception of how roads relate to them. So, local authorities that have got weak customer satisfaction ratings are expected to come up with a plan to say, 'Well, how can we address those things?', and, rather than being engineering-driven, there are indicators that they're using that are not just pure engineering indicators.
Okay. Thank you. I'll close with two questions in one short question. Recognising that many of the border road networks weave in and out of England and Wales, how could we incorporate better joint working within the context of the frameworks you've just addressed? And, more broadly, what evidence exists that we can look at to show how effective the highway asset management approaches taken in England and Scotland have been?
When it comes to the interface between England and Wales, I think one of the areas that certainly could happen is that there are a number of what you might call HMEP advocates—people who are, basically, prepared to go and assist and help. There's a colleague of mine, who I work with—a gentleman called Matthew Lugg. Matthew is very much the kind of person that would be more than happy to come across to Wales and speak to people and show them how HMEP has worked for them. So, I think very much that's out there if there is a particular problem.
I also think that, as Highways England have firmly committed to HMEP, and there is this whole-life asset management strategy, if that was adopted across Wales, the communication between the two would be much easier. You'd be talking the same language, using the same principles, looking at the same indicators. Therefore, it'd be much easier to co-ordinate and to share information than is the case at present.
Responding to the question on Scotland, I think a lot of what Scotland does is in the public domain, but, Scotland, in order to achieve what they wanted to, started back in 2006. So, they started the process of finding the information from 2006 and started to build their plans from that particular point in time. One of the first Scottish reports actually horrified the members of the Scottish Government, because of the state of where they saw themselves going. But they've subsequently been able to show members in Scotland the progress that they are making, to the extent that they—. They've not seen it as something that's going to change overnight. It is a process that's going to take a few years.
You mentioned a few moments ago about benchmarking, and one way that local authorities can benchmark against each other is through the annual local authority road maintenance survey. Now, looking at that survey, I noticed that the response rate in other parts of the UK, in England and London, is a much higher rate. But, in Wales, only 36 per cent of local authorities respond to the survey. Is that an issue? Is the ALARM survey helpful data? Should local authorities be encouraged to complete this survey to the same extent as local authorities in other parts of the UK are doing?
One of the things that is a requirement for UK local authorities is that they have to submit returns on key indicators every year to the Department for Transport.
No. As far as I'm aware, no.
It should, yes. Almost certainly.
Yes. Thank you. I want to ask Professor Smith about his comment that green behaviour should be an integral aspect of maintenance policy. We have, since 2013, the Active Travel (Wales) Act, which enshrines the principle that, in terms of walking and cycling infrastructure, there should be continuous improvement. I wonder what your view is on whether or not we could take the opportunity of road maintenance to build in new infrastructure—cycle lanes in particular, for example—as we do the repairs?
I think that's the direction that things are moving in. I think the idea of integrating across infrastructure, involving other things, taking a more resilient and value-for-money view of it rather than just a materials maintenance view, is extremely important, and I think in probably six to 10 years' time we'll find that the approach is all going to be based on a resilience asset management approach, which we don't have yet at the moment.
Just on the basis of previous examples that have been brought in, and how long innovation—in other words, things that have been discovered—takes to become adopted and to become used. Looking at the Scottish example, as Kris has just said, they started in 2006 but they didn't have their first plan until 2016. It took 10 years for that to get through.
I think if Highways England bring in this wider scale it will be adopted across England, certainly for the strategic road network, but it'll probably take a year or two more to get into the local authorities and to become accepted.
I notice, doing some reading, that it's been suggested that we currently over-specify materials used in highway maintenance. Now, as I understand it—correct me if I'm wrong—in England they have a pavement efficiencies group, which involves the public sector and industry. Does that work in England? Is that a good thing to happen? Should that happen in Wales?
There are quite a few groups within England, and pavement efficiency is one of the groups. There is very much leadership that—it tends to be driven a lot by Highways England, where they have various working groups that are looking at either pavement efficiency or structural efficiency, or, for that matter, issues around drainage and flooding. As part of those groups, they're bringing both the local authorities and they're bringing contractors, material specialists out, so they're very much working on that basis. I think, if we said there was some kind of centralised approach in Wales, then, yes, almost certainly that would be one of the areas you would go for.
Okay, thank you. Can I thank you both for your time this morning. Is there anything else you feel you want to add that's not been drawn out through questions?
I think we'd just emphasise again that we think the maximum benefits would come from having a consistent unitary approach across the whole of Wales, and that being an asset management and resilience-based approach. That would probably give you the best value for money going forward. And possibly, maybe some further work to get some harder evidence on which to base better policy might be a useful exercise.
Thank you. We appreciate your time with us this morning. Thank you very much. Diolch yn fawr.
I move to item 3 with regard to our inquiry on the state of roads in Wales. This morning, we've got our second panel with us, and we're very grateful for your time to be with us this morning. On our agenda, it's down as an engineering panel, so we're grateful for your time this morning and we've got questions around these areas.
Perhaps I could ask you to introduce yourselves for the public record—to start, perhaps, on my left.
Certainly. I'm Stuart Davies. I'm the chair of the County Surveyors' Society Wales and I'm head of highways and transportation for the city and county of Swansea.
I'm Ed Evans, director of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association Wales, so representing about 80 per cent of Wales's civil engineering contractors.
I'm Keith Jones. I'm director for the Institution of Civil Engineers in Wales. I'm former head of highways for the Vale of Glamorgan, and former chair of the County Surveyors' Society's engineering committee, and former representative for Wales on the UK Roads Board dealing with highway maintenance.
Lovely. Thank you. Ed, I was just looking through your evidence and I notice that you said that annual surveys have highlighted the worsening condition of all categories of highways. But, to me, official data seemed to be saying something different. So, perhaps you could expand on that. And I was particularly interested in the view that the trunk road and motorway network seems to be improving at a greater rate than local roads that local authorities are responsible for—just to gather your views on why that might be the case.
Okay. I think in terms of—. I was looking at the statistical bulletin as well from the Welsh Government, and you do see it, and you think, 'Why is it saying that?' I think, steadily, over the years, there has been a deterioration—there's been a general worsening. We've had I think two quite difficult winters over the last 10 years or so, and I think, visibly, people, the general public, had seen that worsening, those potholes emerging, so I think there's a general feeling.
In terms of the motorways and the trunk roads, though, what it does for me is it just demonstrates a gradual underinvestment in highway maintenance, but because we prioritise, those are the two high priority areas, and you're seeing a bit of a stabilisation, and you'd expect that. But what we are seeing is a general worsening, a visual worsening, of those conditions really in the local authority areas.
I must admit, reading through that, I was thinking, 'Okay, you match the two up', and you're thinking, 'Why is it saying that?' But it is about that general, that differentiation, I think. We are prioritising the motorways and the trunk roads—not to say there are no problems there, but it is at the expense, then, of the others.
And that's what the other data is suggesting as well. When it comes to local authorities, there seems to be a big difference between local authority and local authority in terms of the condition of their roads. Why is that?
With the chair of CSS next to me, he'll probably have a view on this, I would have thought. Clearly, every local authority decides to spend their money as they will. I think when it comes to—. The value of these highway assets is huge. Some authorities have more of them than others, and I'm thinking of Powys as much as anything—there's a lot of asset there to be invested in, and each local authority has priorities and they'll choose to spend as they will, which is understandable, but it doesn't make it that much easier for the road users.
Yes, I suppose, just on that. I suppose there are a lot of reasons back historically: the way that local government settlements obviously take account of population. There are a number of different factors. There are challenges with more rural areas, there are challenges with areas if they've got a lot of very rural networks as well. And on higher ground there could be more challenges from both rainfall and from temperatures. So, I think the variance is partly due to funding settlements—original funding settlements—partly due to maintenance practices and approaches, and, I would also say, there's got to have been some impact of different tensions and different priorities within the local authorities themselves as to where they channel their limited funding for what they prioritise, really.
Thank you. Just a comment that this is really the same kind of situation as here—you can give technical advice to politicians and politicians make the decisions, and they're the ones who decide whether they should spend the money on a new roof for a nursery or whether it should be invested in the assets of the infrastructure of the country. So, all that civil engineers can do in our sector is give that impartial advice. The decisions then are made by the politicians.
Thank you. I'm sure there'll be some questions coming out of that point you've just made later on. Joyce Watson.
Good morning, all. I just want to probe whether you think that the approach to funding maintenance programmes in Wales is effective. Is it effective both for local and trunk roads and the motorway network in terms of levels of funding, which is one part, and long-term funding certainty?
No. Next question. No, really, it's down to that there isn't enough money invested in regular asset management and asset maintenance. There should be an ongoing programme to maintain the most vital part of the infrastructure of the country, which hits [correction: effects] the economy and the whole well-being of Wales. It's not enough to patch the potholes—you need that regular investment.
We were watching on the screen the predecessors from over the border who came in to give their advice, and it's the same message for all: you need regular asset management to maintain the structure. So, there's not enough money generally, but this is the condition of the times that we're in now, where there isn't enough money to fund all the services, and where very difficult decisions have to be made about what to prioritise.
I'd come back again to the overall value of this asset of roads that we've got across Wales. It's huge, and the amount we spend on maintenance is minimal compared to that. So, underinvestment is one thing, but, yes, we all accept that they're really difficult times. I think the thing that we could do more is spend the money we have better. The way the investment comes through—and I do understand the reasons why it comes through in that way—it's extremely ad hoc. I did mention in my submission about 'mad March'. It's that back-end of the year stuff, which is not a good way to spend anyone's money, and certainly not in terms of highway maintenance. It's probably the worst time of the year to spend, because you're just coming through a winter and you've got potentially poor weather. So, that's one thing that we could do a lot more about. If we can't get more investment, let's spend what we've got better, but that will take a few cultural changes as well as some technical changes.
Is the 'mad March' a consequence of people not being able to spend the budgets elsewhere and simply saying, 'Oh, well, we'll put it in roads'? That's my understanding. As a motorist, you see it all of the time. Is that simply because—when you talk about culture change—authorities and politicians don't think or see roads as an asset, in your opinion?
Good question. I'm going to defer to Stuart initially. I'll come back, but I think you're closer to it at the moment, aren't you?
Yes, I suppose, on a couple of things in terms of the approaches. And I agree 100 per cent; I don't think that 'mad March' is necessarily a product of the councils themselves. It's the one-year settlements that come through, and they come through across the board. We've got to move away from the one-year settlement approach. Clearly, within Welsh Government, it's been recognised that it's not a sustainable approach, because the new Transport for Wales has been allocated five-year budgets. We've got to move to rolling programmes, because what happens is not just with maintenance funding and things that come through—it's the same with design work. It's based on—you know, the settlement comes through, the announcement will be early in the financial year, you go through a design and procurement process, and then it gets bunched up at the tail end of the year, which serves no-one well, because you get huge, peak workloads along the way. So, they're the kind of main challenges from the funding approaches.
I think that, politically, there will be differences in terms of what authorities consider is important. Clearly, a number of authorities, and the communities themselves, are voicing concern over road conditions, and I can speak from my own experience on this side of the border and the other side that it seems to be a higher priority, and people are getting more frustrated with this sort of deterioration in condition.
So, just to ask about the one-year allocations and the 'mad March' phenomenon, what's preventing local authorities from adapting to this? If you know you're going to get a one-year allocation, why can't you do some pre-design in the previous years?
It's just having the funding there to do it, because, to be honest, as I say, with the council's own fund, straight when the budget process is set, we can plan the spending. The difficulty is knowing what the settlement will be, from the wider revenue and capital budget for the authorities coming through from Welsh Government, and then also the direct funding that comes from Welsh Government for grant bids, for example for local transport fund moneys. There isn't the latency in the system and the capacity in the system to build schemes and get them shelf-ready without the sort of investment behind them.
So, do you think there should be some specific money for design released to allow local authorities to build up a pipeline of schemes?
Yes, I think that's certainly one approach. But I still say that there should be an acknowledgement that the level of investment in highways can't be stop-start. So, there must be that acknowledgement that it's got to be a year-on-year investment. And if the acknowledgement is a year-on-year investment, then there should be that commitment to give longer term budget certainty. You know, it's not something that you can just turn off like a tap and back on.
We've had £30 million funding for local road maintenance, announced in February this year. So, do you think that will be sufficient? I can guess the answer. But, more importantly, how could it be allocated?
And, Ed, did you want to comment on the other previous point as well?
Just to come back to—and it is relevant to this question, in a way, as well—the impacts on the supply chain. Stuart mentioned about having those shovel-ready schemes ready—so, investing, getting the pipeline ready, is good. There's no two ways about it. But if you try and concentrate all the spend, then, in that short period of time—the February, the March and, let's be fair, into April as well—you have issues with quarries, everybody needs to gear up, and people are on double time, saving up for their holidays because they know that this thing will come through. That's an impact. We've then got to bring teams in from England and elsewhere to really bolster that.
But if you've got a pipeline to do that, you could stagger it throughout the year.
Sorry—if we could stagger the actual spend, then, through the year after that, then fine, but even if we've got a pipeline and then we try and push it all into that short period of time, well, we would have problems.
Well, you could do that if you had a pipeline. That's the whole point of having a pipeline.
Sorry, yes, I probably misinterpreted you there. I thought we were talking about the preparation work for schemes.
The £30 million—I think we saw it some time ago with the local government borrowing initiative. We had that push on that investment in, and I think that did make a difference. It came probably on the back of a poor winter as well. So, people were able to see that. And that could be planned out, then, over a period of time. So, yes, it's very much welcome. The £30 million is what it is, but that's a better way of trying to spend it.
When you come to the end of the budget in March, then you are also having to keep your money ready for the winter: do you know what the winter conditions are, do you know how much snow we're going to get, how much rain we'll get? That's all part of the maintenance budget, and you then try to decide, whatever we've got left, you can spend on the maintenance of the roads themselves. But that's the wrong time of year to do it—it's March; if you're going to spend your money wisely, you will do that in the spring and the summer, when you've got the better conditions for laying your road-surfacing materials.
Yes. The £30 million was very welcome. The difficulty, I suppose, is that it isn't enough, and it's not over a sustained period. I suppose my thought goes back to the local government borrowing initiative, which, when you even think of the name of it—you know, I understand the mechanism behind it—but it was borrowing money to maintain what's yours and what you absolutely need to maintain. So, I suppose I question whether that's actually the right way—that you're borrowing to maintain what you're responsible for. That surely should be based on more of an ongoing recognition of the capital need, and long-term investment in that.
I think, in terms of the amount, for local authorities and the networks they're responsible for, somewhere in the region of £30 million to £50 million a year, ongoing sum, would probably be right to see a real, visible difference. What I would say in terms of some of the information on road condition, we have seen—because we do a lot of work in CSS Wales on an all-Wales perspective, on performance monitoring, and we do a lot of work with Data Unit Wales. We've seen the positive impact of the LGBI—it's had an impact on road conditions for, certainly, A and B roads; C roads less so. But what I would say is there is no survey—surveys are not carried out, to a certain extent, on the unclassified road network, and that's a vast network across Wales, and that's a really, really challenging one for authorities. So, the performance indicators can indicate that, 'Oh, great, it's slightly improving, it's moving in a good direction', but what isn't on that spreadsheet is the real challenges, and for rural areas and for the rural economies, of roads that are getting into a very poor state.
Well, that brings me nicely on to the final question, that Arup have suggested that highway maintenance in Wales is too regionally fragmented to permit effective prioritisation of work. Now, if that's the case—and you've sort of alluded that it is the case—how do we address that, to meet the requirements of both the trunk roads, the motorway, and also the local network that you've described?
I would say I wouldn't be in agreement, really, with Arup's wording in that sense. Where we are in Wales is we've got a really mature developed highways asset management plan. Every authority has got a developed highways asset management plan. That's been a lot of work, from all the 22 authorities, plus there's been work with the Welsh Government on producing this. We were pretty much at the forefront, and I think, back to Keith's days really, when he was in CSS. But we've worked very closely with the Society of Chief Officers of Transportation in Scotland, who are our counterparts there, and developed really robust asset management plans and processes. So, I would say that it doesn't jeopardise the delivery. I'm talking from a local authority basis; I can't speak for the trunk roads.
We do an awful lot of sharing and collaboration. I'm here from a CSS perspective, which has got membership from the 22 authorities. We've got the main committee itself and there are sub-groups looking at performance, engineering, traffic and transport—it's across the board in terms of in there. And we tie in to best practice nationally, across the UK. I sit on the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport, UK wide. We've got a representative who sits on the UK roads liaison group, and we harvest best practice from that. So, we're very tied in to where best practice is. Of course, there's an element when you produce your highways asset management plans that respective authorities will want to look at it, and, as I say, look at it to decide whether they want to prioritise as much money for highways. And I guess that's one of the challenges of living in a political world really.
Mark, can I bring you in, because you had a question on this point?
Just a short question. As far as most constituents are concerned, all the money ultimately comes from one pot, and obviously it's complex, but not at a logical level to most people. How do you respond to those constituents who express the view that, as literally happened to me this week, we shouldn't be spending money on new infrastructure when there are holes in their local roads?
That's a valid point, because when you as politicians, when you're knocking on the door, canvassing for their views, then, generally, most residents want to see their local environment looked after. They want to see the potholes [correction: to see the potholes repaired], they want to see the lights on, they want to see there are safe areas around there. They don't want to see new infrastructure being developed.
Going back and putting a maintenance hat on, it's correct that, unless you have the funds to maintain the assets you already have, why are you investing in new, clever traffic management schemes, for example, that have expensive surface and materials, without additional budgets to maintain them? So, by its very nature, your existing assets will start to deteriorate, as well as the new schemes that you don't get the asset money for. So, there is a careful balance between looking at the overall picture and what you want to do in terms of addressing, say, road safety, against the maintaining of what you have. It is a very real problem and a challenge, which is why we have politicians making decisions. All we can do as technical officers is give you the ammunition so that you can decide.
Even going back to the local government borrowing initiative, that money was raised, initially, with the idea of spending it on maintenance. Not all 22 authorities decided to invest that money on the maintenance of the highways, because that, really, is a decision that's down to the local authority. In England, there was always a channel, a way, that if you wanted to invest in the maintenance of the roads, they could do that in England. You can't do that by the very nature of the set-up of Wales. So, you have to work within what you have.
It's a difficult one to say: what do you prioritise? But, I suppose, I'm clearly of the view that you have to maintain properly what you've got at the moment, and I suppose, to a certain extent, it shouldn't—. By far the most expensive asset that any local authority owns shouldn't be de-prioritised on the basis of political cycles and things. My view is that there should be absolute long-term, committed funding for the maintenance. But that doesn't mean it takes away from the importance of investing in some of the improvements and things we've got, because we've got some real challenges with economic performance and things across Wales, and opening up the arteries of the economy, in terms of investment and reducing congestion, improving journey times and improving safety is critical. So, I suppose I would say I want the cake and I want to eat it too.
Keith, when I knock on doors as a politician or hold a surgery, my constituents raise issues like potholes, and they go into detail about them—a particular pothole and a particular road. But, then, when I knock on the next door—. So, that particular constituent wants that pothole sorted and wants the maintenance of that road sorted out, and then I knock on the next door, and the next house says, 'Oh, all these roadworks are going on. All these maintenance issues and the improvements going on are causing me to be late for work and there's traffic lights there, et cetera.' So, I mean, that's the job of politicians, isn't it?
And that's when you go to the next one along and they've got an elderly aunt or they've got children in school, and they would want to prioritise education or social services. So, it's a balance of spend. The problem we have is, every year, you base it on what was spent last year—2 per cent up on this, 3 per cent down on that. What it really needs is a fundamental review of what the money should be spent on. Should it be spent wisely? How and when and why? Just that drip feeding on little initiatives is the wrong way to do it. And, of course, the highway network affects all services. In my evidence I've given you, the roads also give access and supply the services to the education, to the schools, to the social services, to the hospitals. An ambulance, when it's driving through a potholed road, is affecting the patients they have in the back, but also they're affected by the way that you've introduced traffic calming. So, you really need to think about that's the artery—Stuart's word there—that services everything that local government and central government service.
They are if you have sufficient funds to do it.
The frameworks themselves—it's really good practice. I've worked both sides of the border, and in Wales we're there, we've all produced highway asset management plans for a number of years, which give the framework about how you prioritise, where the spend should be prioritised. So, I would say they are. The practice in England, for example, has been very variable. It's only recently the DfT have brought in additional funding and, sort of, required authorities to, I guess, raise their game there and do it, but here, the actual planning itself and the highway asset management plans are right; as you say—this was mentioned—it's the amount of money that then goes into the asset management plans to see what's delivered at the tail end.
It's an easy hit. The cut-off you're spending in maintenance you don't see for a number of years, so if you do need a new roof or a new library, or whatever service you need to prioritise, it's easier to take money that is spent on maintenance.
Professor Smith has highlighted to us the English highways maintenance efficiency programme and the Scottish road asset management plan. He cited those as good examples—as good practice.
They were difficult to get on board some 12, 13 years ago, the Society of Chief Officers of Transportation in Scotland. We developed this in Wales as the first. We got all 22 local authorities, plus the trunk road agencies to come together to develop a common framework for asset management, we then invited the SCOTS to join us, then we had an inquiry from Cornwall, saying, 'We're Celts too, can we join you?' and then we had an inquiry from Cork to say, 'We're Celts as well, can we come together?' We had no such buy-in from England; they were very jealous about the progress that Wales and the rest of our Celtic partners were able to develop. So, actually, we're at the forefront of this.
But these two issues that I highlighted are happening in England and Scotland—
—and my question is: is it right? Is there an approach here for Wales to adapt those, or are you saying there's not?
They're learning from Wales, I would say, but whether they've caught up by now—. I've been out of this for 10 years.
The highways maintenance efficiency programme, I think there's been renewed funding put into it. It was looking as if they were going to pull the funding until fairly recently. We're tied into the outputs because they work through the UK roads liaison board as well. We've had a couple of presentations through CSS for the HMEP itself. A lot of the basics are around establishing robust asset management, and then you look at different things in the supply chain. So, what I would say is that we very much have got a finger on the pulse in terms of across Wales and the sharing of that best practice and the knowledge. So, we're by no means in the dark while others in different borders are doing much better. We are there with best practice, and it's something we're comfortable with.
And going back to my first point about what constituents say when I knock on their door, it's that they're frustrated, often, with maintenance programmes as well because it's caused them to be late for work or whatever. So, over the years, the Government have tried to—well, they have brought in measures to try and smooth the maintenance programmes—. Make it more smooth, if you like, make them go more—. Have those initiatives been effective?
Yes, they have, but when you see the barriers and the roadworks taking place, it's not just the repairs and maintenance: it is all the utilities that have the right— bless them—to open up a highway network. And once you have a road that you've designed for, say, 30 to 40 years, you stop them opening up the road for the first year or two, but once you break into that road surface, you introduce those cracks and the freeze thaw that your previous evidence has provided, and that we've provided, and so a lot of those roadworks are gas, water and electricity works that are taking place.
Well, I was going to say, and I don't know if you're taking it this way, but from a customer's point of view, and seeing all of these things going on, do we, overall, manage and co-ordinate the works that are happening and inform members of the public of when things are happening? I think that is a challenge. We've probably got individuals—I've just had the gas board working outside my house, they were very good as individuals and they came through and they informed me well, and the same thing would happen if it was a contractor filling potholes or whatever— you'd know about it. The co-ordination of it all is very, very difficult. So, for the customer, they're just seeing a plethora of things happening. That, I think, is an area that we probably should work far better on. Who does it, where it happens from, I'm not sure, but we should make that happen far better.
I don't know if you want to talk about—. I mean, there are traffic co-ordinators, traffic works co-ordinators. There are different roles you could do—. You've got to be careful not to create another bureaucracy, I guess. I suppose, to a certain extent, I'd look at colleagues in local government having their fingers on the pulses as to what's happening in terms of statutory authorities doing works in certain areas, and then maybe using local authorities that are already under pressure financially to inform the public that something somewhere—. We just need to be far better at co-ordinating this work, or, even if we can't co-ordinate that well, we can at least inform the public as to when and where these things are happening.
There's a significant effort that goes into the co-ordination role. We are looking at the moment at things—. Wales along with England—various authorities—are looking at permitting schemes and things that charge for the use of the road space from utilities and from anyone who wants to work on the highway. So, I guess we're constantly looking to see whether we can improve in those areas. What I would say, though, is that, in terms of the amount of roadworks—and it was a very good point about the utilities—what we've also got, because we have this backlog, is we end up doing more reactive maintenance rather than planned maintenance—so, whether it's filling potholes, whether it's patching and things, in terms of to recover from a failure, basically, in part of the network. If the balance in terms of the more sustained level of planned investment and ongoing capital investment into the highways—there would be less money wasted, in effect, on reactive maintenance and there'd be fewer unplanned closures and things.
The Welsh Government introduced a framework for utilities and street works a few years ago. Is that working?
A framework in terms of—?
As I understand it, they introduced a framework for working, so utilities companies and street works could be amalgamated.
We very much—. We've got, across Wales, quite strong co-ordination, so utilities have to put in where they're forward planning, for example, mains replacement works or any significant works or even relatively minor works. There are monthly meetings in most authorities to make sure that there is that co-ordination. We've also got things, for example, under the street works, where, if we do resurface a new road, unless it is an emergency then utilities won't be allowed in there for a year or two years after.
I think you're talking about the framework that I was referring to. So, is that working?
Yes. Yes, it is. I think it's always about looking at whether it can be improved. We've got concerns across the board with the life of the reinstatements that are put in place and the various things being introduced, for example, the coring and testing of those to make sure that we are getting resilient reinstatements, but the general evidence seems to show that we're facing something like a 30 per cent—
Okay, good. Right, I'll just bring in David Rowlands and then I'll come to Mark. David.
Yes. One of the frustrations that often comes across to us via our constituents and things like that is the timing of some of the engineering projects—I'm not talking about, time-wise, month-wise, but you get very little work done at night time or on weekends and that. This is particularly frustrating when you have a situation where the traffic build-up is very, very heavy during those works processes. Can you give me an idea—? Obviously, costs are involved, but it can be very frustrating for people when they see 'plant' and everything standing idle over weekends and things like that.
I'll start it off and, Ed, maybe, come in on the—. There is a significant cost increase to having night working. What I'd also say—. I mean, there are a number of logistics in terms of plant being open for materials—the batching, taking the men out from the day and switching them to night shifts. But, in addition to that, we've got lots of challenges in some areas in terms of properties and the disruption to the people living there, because the operations themselves tend to be very noisy and disruptive. So, it's one thing that you can possibly do on higher volume traffic on the trunk roads in terms of where you're away from properties—you're effectively sterilised away from those areas. It's much more of a challenge if you're working within the communities and towns and cities because of the level of disruption it brings.
You'll see quite a large volume of work going on on the A470 or on the M4 in that night-time period, but, as Stuart said, it can happen there because you are shut off from the rest of it. It's not great if you're stuck on one of the diversion routes, but there will be some disruption with this. I think, wherever possible, Sunday used to be a period when you could undertake works and things were relatively quiet. It's not anymore—we're working 24/7, 24 hours a day—so it's very, very difficult. But there is a huge cost—
But, obviously, the time factor, then, if you're looking at how many weeks it takes, if you're not working on weekends, you're extending that time factor, aren't you?
It's that balance, I guess, between—. From a supplier's point of view, as long as you're paid to do things out of hours, you will do it, and it does restrict the overall time period, but I guess that colleagues who are trying to make their funding stretch as much as possible will have a view of that as well. So, it is a difficult balance.
One thing on traffic, when we try to work on the highway, is to avoid the peak, so you avoid that terrible peak in the morning from 7.30 a.m. to 9.30 a.m. and 3.30 p.m. to 6.30 p.m., but that means that the actual hours you can work to minimise the disruption are really quite narrow, and then you've got all the introduction of the traffic management, which itself takes a lot of time and money, and you're doing that twice a day. If you could just go in there and blitz it, then, yes, you would have the advantage of getting it done quicker, but then you have more of an impact in that shorter period. You mentioned the A465. You've probably spotted that, during the weekends, from Friday to Monday, the roads are closed so that the contractors can go in there and blitz that work and get out the way. It's managed the same around the Brynglas tunnel. When the closures take place there on the weekends, there is a major disruption during that period but it's a matter of getting in and getting it done quickly. So, as Ed has said, it's that balance.
But you can see the frustration, say, of retail workers, who are expected to work 12 hours every day whatever happens.
Yes, but, if we worked to a 24-hour operation, you're talking then about moving perhaps to a four-shift operation and in cost—. Yes, you'd have wonderful opportunities for jobs, but can the suppliers—can all the suppliers match that and get it going?
I think what I would add to that, though, and I think this is a discussion where politicians do need to be involved, is, actually, from a customer perspective, is that what we should be doing? Should we be putting far, far greater priority on that disruption to the customer and saying, 'Well, actually, it is a price worth paying for that.' I don't how much work—. Probably, a piece of work needs to be done on that to look at some of the economic impacts of those delays.
But there is a cost implication. But it's cost-benefit.
The issue has to be looked at—. When you have your scheme, one of the things you consider is: is it a 24-hour operation? Is it in-peak, is it off-peak? What are the effects? This is part of what local authority civil engineers do as their day job.
Okay. Mark, I think you had a question on this, but do you then want to come on to your set of questions? On section 4 you are, now. Thank you.
Okay. You referred to the need for local authorities to co-ordinate the timing of schemes. To what extent do you consider that still might apply to Welsh Government in the context of motorway and trunk roads? I remember three years ago a public outcry when three major schemes on the A55 were all launched effectively at the same time, causing crisis. So, has the Welsh Government responded effectively to that or is more action still required?
It's exactly the same—whether it's a motorway, whether it's a trunk road, whether it's a council road, then the co-ordination should take place. I don't know whether they do, but you would hope they would if they're doing the job correctly—they would consider the impact not just on the trunk roads but on the county roads that their trunk roads or motorways go through, because there's obviously a balance. There was a terrible accident last night on the motorway that affected roads in Cardiff. So, traffic has a major impact. There's so little resilience now built into the highway network. You've got to go wider than your own patch, if you like.
From a Welsh Government point of view, obviously, through the trunk road agencies, they cover quite a large area, so you would expect that co-ordination to take place. Local authorities— obviously, smaller; the boundaries, cross-border and so on. It's possibly more of an issue—I shouldn't be asking questions to Stuart, but—
I think the co-ordination does happen. The Welsh Government are saying they're involved in terms of the co-ordination meetings with local authorities. My perception is that they do have good processes in place to try and avoid unnecessary multiple delays and things on the network. But I would go back to the thing that it is exasperating, I think, when you go—in terms of February and March, when you're driving round the trunk road networks, you are likely to encounter quite a few sets of roadworks because, again, of the way that the funding has been disbursed. So, I think it does cause more challenges and pressures in terms of trying to co-ordinate and plan those works.
Okay. Moving on then, how appropriate is the predictive traffic management approach to identifying the need for major highways investment in Wales?
I would hope that it's very robust, that there are models in place that would predict the traffic flow such that the planners, the transportation planners, can then feed into the need for road improvements or new roads.
I think, historically, it's been predict and provide, and I know there are some things that have, I guess, changed the modelling trends. It isn't always right. There are some things that buck the trend, and I know, for example, that predicted growth in traffic, for example, in road traffic, was—. The projection was quite significant, but, I think as a result of some of the economic pressures that the country faced, we saw a change in that. So, some of the prediction modelling wasn't correct.
It is very difficult. I think we're getting better and better at modelling things, though, and understanding, for example, and we've got the respective development plans for the authorities. We can understand the impact or the potential impact of traffic and things on that, and we can also put in measures to try and constrain growth or encourage other sorts of modes of transport so we don't get the peaks. I suppose, in summary: is it perfect? No. But I suppose unless you've got the ability for hindsight, at the end of it then it's a really difficult one to get it exactly right.
One extra point—. Sorry. Other decisions can also affect traffic flow. The decision to lower the tolls on the Severn bridges and to abolish the tolls will have a major impact on the traffic flow on the motorway. Now, to predict which way that would go is beyond the realms of a transportation planner. It's a political decision. Also, you need to think about—. I know you've probably got something to say, Lee, on these kinds of things, but also the—
—the trend towards more sustainable forms of travel will mean your predictions might need to be channelled into what you want to do. So, you might know the way it's going, but you might want to reverse those trends depending on the models you want to do.
I think that was going to be my point—
—that we do need to start thinking differently about how we model for the future. We've got the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, we've got the active travel Act, we've got technology changing. As a sector, we need to get a grip of that and probably start to consider things and present things in a different way so that politicians can consider things in a different way as well.
Great. Well, thanks for that. How important is having a clear pipeline of projects to securing value for money? We've got, of course, the Wales infrastructure investment plan, the national transport finance plan, local transport plans, that are supposed to be setting out a clear pipeline in that context.
I think it's crucial, really, that, from a Wales perspective, we've got a very clear pipeline on what the objectives—what we're trying to achieve from that. There's obviously the justification for those schemes, which is boosting gross value added—the actual economic impact that it'll have—but, in addition to that, I think the other benefits are we're able to then, I guess, put things in terms of the supply chains themselves, we're able to maintain and develop skills on an ongoing basis because we've got a pipeline of work. I guess we've seen it in things like the housing sector, where there's been long-term investment in terms of the Welsh housing quality standard; there have been a number of apprenticeships and things taken on. You can see an ongoing demand in terms of the work across the sector, which is in the local authorities and the consultants and the contractors; you've got that added benefit. Plus you're able to plan much longer in terms of how those schemes are delivered under the pre-works with any compulsory purchase orders and in negotiations and things because we're having a long-term pipeline. It's a really important thing.
I think, from a supplier's point of view, it's the lifeblood. Without that continuity—and we don't have it at the moment in this sector at all. Without that we can't plan and we can't bring these—. It's a bit of a diverse thing, really, because if we don't get that we can't actually deliver back to Welsh Government many of the things that you are looking for in terms of sustainable jobs, in terms of new entrants into the industry, the links to education, NEETs and all those different agendas, the community benefits agendas. We can't really deliver that very, very well if we don't have that continuity. So, yes, the forward pipeline is important but actually then delivering the certainty that that pipeline is delivered. Because we see it, certainly on the larger projects—they're there in the pipeline, and you can't quite get them; it just keeps moving. So, that certainty is as important as having that long-term pipeline.
It's wider than the contractors. It's the designers, who'll need to know whether they set up offices. But it also goes back to the universities. The universities need to be even one step in front to get the design skills, the academic skills, in place. With all the development, for example, in Wylfa in north Wales, the universities need to be feeding in the academics to be able to get those resources in the planning. So, it goes back quite a long way. What we really want is an interactive map of all the work so that you can click on an area and find out where they are. That's our vision for the infrastructure investment plan, the WIIP.
We hope that they would listen to us and go to that. We were working with the former—. When Jane Hutt was in charge of the WIIP, we were working with her office to develop that and we hope to carry on that development.
I think the Wales infrastructure investment plan is a massive step forward. It's probably plateaued a little bit now, but what we need to see goes back to this certainty, really, that what is in there will be delivered. But the benefits of it are huge for forward planning and it does go all the way back to the universities and further education colleges and that they're able to plan and prepare people with the skills that we'll need in two years' time and three years' time.
We saw a terrible drain when the Olympics were being built. All the engineers were working on the Olympics, so we had no design skills. There are times when there is no work in Wales and many of the contractors had no work at all. They had to go down to the south-west, go to Scotland, go to England and get the work. You need that lifeblood of work for all sectors.
Yes. Of course, that also created an apprenticeship and, therefore, skills gap when the market picked up. Obviously, we've got coming down the road the national infrastructure commission with a national overview of this. What role should that body, do you believe, play in planning and prioritising highway enhancement schemes, whether that's trunk, motorway or local?
Give independent advice.
I think we all probably had input to this at the time, when the consultation was taking place. And there was some uncertainty as to what would be the horizon for the commission. Would they be looking at fairly short-term things, or is it the five-year, 10-year and 20-year? I'm sensing it's more towards that longer-term view, but yes, for me, it's that independent advice, but it's also the broader-than-infrastructure view of the world. So, we're providing the infrastructure for things to happen, whether it be hospitals, schools, for people to live their lives. That's what needs to drive it and I think linking that to what infrastructure we need to enable that is a really important role for the commission. How much it gets into the detail will depend, really, on that time span that it's looking at.
The National Infrastructure Commission, the UK version, when they started, only looked at three schemes. It's such a huge job to give that advice.
To what extent do you believe that pinch points should be targeted?
Pinch points from a traffic management point of view?
Absolutely. That's part of the overall picture: whether you invest in resolving your pinch points and the terrible problems we get with congestion. Cardiff is now one of the UK's most congested cities, so yes, something needs to be done to resolve the pinch points, because of all the other problems that go with it, such as the pollution, or you're moving in different forms of transport.
I think if you've got general underinvestment, you have to look at pinch points because that's a way of making your money go further and that should be part of the assessment process, the viability of certain projects, and in many instances, it'll be better than a full-blown scheme, shall we say.
What if there are other forms of transport?
Finally, with, for instance, electric and autonomous vehicles coming metaphorically and literally down the road, to what extent should we be futureproofing highway policy to account for that?
There's a lot of work done on this. Many of the consultants are heavily invested in these forms of transport, as well as Google and these big ones. But how comfortable will we all feel when we look across when we're sitting in a traffic jam and we see nobody sitting in the front seat? But, yes, that should be part of what everybody is considering.
I think that needs to be part of the broader discussion. When we're looking at the viability of projects in future and the justification of them, whilst we don't have that certainty of what it's going to look like, it certainly needs to be there as an option and then, to a certain extent, it's back to you as politicians again, then, to look at that as one of those options.
Certainly, every authority and, I think, every organisation is grappling with what does it mean, what's it going to look like, what do we change now. I suppose we're not clear at the moment about what changes it will mean. Certainly, from some of the presentations and some of the ideas coming out, it could potentially transform our public spaces and take away the need for any city centre and town centre car parking. It'll change the way people view transport and it won't be, 'I own a car, it's mine', it will be transport as a service, more. It's a very difficult one as to how we build it into the planning at the moment and I think the only thing we can do is keep very close to what the emerging knowledge and information is relating to that, so we can try and account for it as soon as possible. But it's a real challenge—we're stepping into the unknown in that sense.
I would certainly hope that a commission would have that on their agenda. They have to. They have to.
We've got three subject areas to cover and about 20 minutes. So, I've got waiting David, Hefin and then Lee. David Rowlands.
Could we look at the approach to procurement and delivery of major enhancement projects? If we look at CECA's comment that the delivery of major enhancements and the ability to achieve value is particularly affected by procurement and the speed of decision making, especially with the smaller projects, what issues do these raise in Wales, and do they apply equally to trunk roads, motorways and local roads?
Absolutely. It's all about working together and using the best form of contract you have, early contractor involvement, getting all the team together, using the expertise from the whole team to develop, moving away from the adversarial approach with your contracts.
I think the procurement practices—we could be having this conversation about food procurement in Wales, we could be having it about all sorts of procurement things. They're the same issues, really. For us in terms of procurement it's the focus on lowest-price tenders. It's not conducive to giving us good value, because it focuses on cost, not value. That comes up time and time again. I think there are issues across the board in terms of procurement in Wales, and probably beyond, in terms of the competence of procurers to look at how they deal with things like risk, how they deal with the whole bureaucracy of the process, and how they deal with engagement with supply chains. As I say, that could be across any sector. I think the big issue for me with the lowest-price tenders is that we are focusing on a lowest-cost, short-term type of solution and outcome. And yet we've been talking here about whole-life cost, about what happens in the future, 20 years down the line. The two are not compatible. If we're just focusing on that lowest-cost element, we're not really driving value, so we're not using the funding that we've got on whatever for the best purpose that we need.
It looks like we're going to have increasing use of early contractor involvement in contracts. Do you feel this is an effective way of securing value for money?
Absolutely. As I mentioned just a few minutes ago, it's getting the whole team together. So, you don't rely on the designers using their expertise to come up with a scheme; you bring the contractors on board, who have their own set of skills, to work together to get the best outcome for the users of the infrastructure.
I think as we move forward and we're looking at alternative forms of transport, I suppose one of the examples I'd use is the rail franchise, where we didn't really know what that solution was going to be in the end. So you need to bring together all the expertise, and that will include the contractors and suppliers, and at some point you would expect to bring in a competitive element to this as well. It's quite a difficult thing, but unless you have that early contractor involvement, that early supplier involvement, then I suspect those who are procuring will not know what the solutions are, and you can't have that dialogue otherwise. Traditionally, it's been a case of saying, 'This is what I want. I will tell you. Give me a price and I'll give it to you if it's the lowest price'. That doesn't work, I think, in this brave new world that we're going into in terms of alternative forms of transport and so on. It needs a dialogue across the whole supply chain.
One of the criticisms of this early contractor involvement is that you're bringing in a contractor very early in the process and you're eliminating quite a number of other contractors then once you do that. Do you think that that may be a difficulty?
Provided you've got the systems in place to make sure that you've got the right contractor. Can I give you an example, a real example, of where bringing in a contractor actually changed the way that you do things? On the A465—I've picked that scheme, you could pick another scheme—the design was for a bridge over a gorge. That was the way, and the designers came in with the idea. Bringing the contractor in from the very start, they said, 'Hang on. What we're trying to do is to get from there to there. There is a gorge in the way. We have all this surplus material elsewhere. If, instead of carting that off site, we fill the gorge and use that to create a road, we don't need the bridge, we don't need to cart away the material, we've got all sorts of sustainability, we're all going to save.' So, the end result is to get from one side of this to the other side. The actual mechanics of how you do it were a win-win, just by having the contractor on board to say, 'We've got this problem by building a bridge, but elsewhere you've got these materials—'. That's the way to do it.
There are just two caveats to that. I think there is an issue of—. If this appears like the way forward, we have competency issues across the whole procurement sector. You do need to know what you're doing with this. Otherwise, from a public sector point of view and value for public money, you could come unstuck quite seriously. So, it needs people who understand what they're doing.
Could we just—? Do you think it's possible to increase the speed of delivery of major highway schemes without compromising the interests of local communities and/or the environment? What specific steps would the panel propose to achieve that?
I've mentioned this in my submission around that decision making. There are statutory processes to take any project through. I think the key is to make the best use of the time that you have for those statutory processes—to do as much as you can within that time, as opposed to almost doing things in series. I think that's where things slow down. We do need to spend time in terms of engaging with communities, but do it within that statutory period. And there is a political element to this, as you well know, that if things start to get batted around for political reasons, we lose the momentum, we lose all those skills that were geared up for a particular project. And there is a huge cost with this. I think I've referred to an Arcadis report that gives you the cost of delays. Now, if you look at them, they're big, big costs. So, I think, speed it up, use what we can, the time that we have within those statutory periods, and that, I would say, is the way forward.
Of course, there's a bit of a risk in that, because they may change the policy at the end of it.
There is, and I think that is the reluctance from lots of local authorities and Welsh Government; you don't want to commit that funding. And that has political connotations as well. But without it, you will not reduce that overall time period.
Stuart Davies, you've said in your evidence that the trunk road and motorway schemes
'should not be funded at the expense of local transport schemes which will improve safety, accessibility and transport choices across Wales.'
What kind of balance should be struck between the two, given that resources are finite?
It is a very difficult one, and I suppose what I wanted to make clear there is that most journeys don't start on the trunk road and end on the trunk road; they start within the local networks in the communities. What I'm conscious of is that, in times when there are pressures on finances, it's taken away to fund some of the bigger strategic schemes, and the funding levels—. Because we've seen substantial reductions in funding levels for local transport plan funding over the last, I guess, 10 years or so. It's gone from £120 million or £100 million, down to £10 million or £15 million now. We just need to make sure that we're continuing to get that investment. And I guess it goes back to a discussion we were having earlier, really—that we're continuing to get the right level of investment to get the right benefits out, and if there is a large scheme, that that needs to be considered through additional funding rather than looking at what's the size of the pie already and taking slices out.
Yes, I think we've heard that message about the holistic approach to the whole thing, and that's very clear. So, what about value for money in comparison to investment in public transport? Because there was a comment in the evidence that for every £1 invested in road infrastructure, there's a rate of return multiplier of 2.85 per cent. Does that have implications for investment in, for example, public transport?
There are different measures in terms of the investment in public transport. There's a little bit of an unknown in terms of that, because I know things like—. For example, on one of the schemes up in Scotland with the Borders railway, they did certain modelling to show, and they didn't predict it to be anywhere near as successful. So, there's a challenge to understanding exactly what's going on. But, clearly, with things like the future generations and wellbeing Act, I think there's going to be more emphasis provided on that, and I know the revised Welsh transport appraisal guidance is taking into account those measures, and I think they'll have more weighting in the future.
How much linkage is there between investment in road infrastructure and the wider concept of active travel infrastructure?
There are much closer linkages now. Again, I think that's coming into the revised WelTAG approaches. I know the Welsh Government are very keen on ensuring that we're having some transformational active travel projects, while previously I guess the cycling and walking facilities would have been considered and would have been there, but maybe not given the prominence—
Yes. Certainly, there's obviously additional funding being announced now as well, but I think there's a growing expectation that—instead of the pedestrian cycle movement being seen as kind of secondary, and almost being deprioritised, I think there's an expectation, certainly from Welsh Government, to see schemes being brought forward that give a greater prominence and a greater priority to that.
Okay. Given the scarcity of funding—. Can I just turn to Keith Jones? In your evidence, regarding the Welsh Government's mutual investment model, which is a public-private partnership, you said that they are a form of funding used for hospitals and have been widely criticised because of the long-term costs and a non-sustainable approach. So, under what circumstances would they be acceptable, or are they not at all?
I would be very wary of public-private partnerships in funding highway schemes. There are examples where they have worked, but they are rare. Typically, you find that they were used, as I mentioned in my evidence, for hospitals, but you then find, even at the end of perhaps 20, 40 years, that the health authority find they've been spending many, many millions over many years, and suddenly, at the end of 40 years, they don't actually own the asset, and then they have to buy it if they want it. There are examples of money running out before the end of the investment when you have a private funder of a public sector asset, and then you have to quantify the standard. And, without getting political, private investors have only one end, which is a return on their investment not on the need for that asset.
But in a letter to this committee, the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport said that the mutual investment model is different to that, in that it allows the public sector to share in the profits of the private partner. Are you aware of the detail of the mutual investment model and do you think that's the case?
What I would say is 'be wary.' If you go into it, then be very careful that you have tied in exactly who owns the asset during the life, how much maintenance is going to be carried out, and what is the asset value that you are paying for. Go in with your eyes open and make conscious decisions; that's fine. We've talked about the local government borrowing initiative that came out a few years ago. The money to pay that investment that was done a few years ago will be paid back over many, many, many years, similar to a mortgage. Providing everybody knows what's there and what the money's been spent on, yes, that's fine, but make sure you know exactly what the money is, what it's being used for, who's paying and who owns the asset at the end.
So, the simple question is: would you consider the mutual investment model to be a different thing to the private finance initiative? Is it a better model?
It's a better model.
It's a better model than the old private finance, but you need to make sure that whoever invests in that knows exactly where the money's coming from and how it's going to be spent and who owns the asset during its life, and who's going to paying for the maintenance.
I think the mutual investment model is a step forward from the old PFIs—very much so. They were in disrepute and they were not handled very well at all. This is a different model and I think it needs to be seen as a mix of a number of forms of investment that in Wales we have to use.
But it's a satisfying model; it's not a model you would choose if you had any other choice.
I think if you could directly fund it, you would do that.
Thank you. I just want to touch on sustainability, and each of you make interesting points in your written evidence. I'd just like to ask each of you in turn about them if I could, please. Stuart Davies, your comments earlier were far more upbeat about the future generations Act and the active travel Act than your written evidence is, which is decidedly downbeat. You say that, though admirable, much more needs to be done to embed the principles of the future generations Act into maintenance and enhancement of road networks. What do you mean by that?
I think it's got to be there in the thinking. I think, with both the active travel Act and the well-being of future generations, it just needs to be embedded earlier on in some of the planning around the works and the planning, whether it's improvement or whether it's maintenance itself. I think it's just really understanding it more. I think that we as a nation are grappling with what it actually means. So, I think it's just embedding it more into our thinking.
I think it's having that understanding of—I suppose it's an overused term—that we're borrowing, effectively, the earth, and it's to be handed down to future generations and that we're not considering things with a real short-term approach or doing things now that will be detrimental to the future.
But when you answered earlier, you described roads as being the economic artery and that improving journey times was the way of improving that. So, how does that fit with what you've just said about what sustainability means?
Well, I think it's journey times. When I talk about journey times, I mean in terms of public transport and highway networks as well. To be honest, I think there will be a significant tension with things like the well-being of future generations Act, because, you know, in Wales, we are suffering from low GVA, we're struggling economically. But how we develop things in the future, if you consider very much the environmental sustainability and, you know, purely, you're almost restricting it away from investment, say, in roads, to say, 'We want to move away from that'—. We may be doing things much better in terms of air quality and for the environmental sustainability side, and from a safety perspective, but we may be stifling the economic performance and our ability to compete with other countries, cross-border, other areas that are willing to invest that money. So, I think there will be some tensions and some difficult decisions.
But, essentially, you think we need to continue our existing roads approach, because that will fuel the economy.
No. I think it's that there is a—. We have to change the way—. I guess, in the past, it used to be—certainly going back 20, 30 years it would be—build and they will come. It was, sort of, 'Throw infrastructure at it and it will be fine.' We mustn't do it that blindly, but it's getting that balance between understanding what's going to help open up the economy, plus balancing it with what impact it's going to have on the future.
But I struggle, from listening carefully to what you've said throughout, with how your thinking involves doing any of that, because you've talked about the predict-and-provide model, you've talked about journey times, which are the traditional approaches. So, while you accept the language of the Act, I'm not entirely sure I hear a view saying that we need to do anything different, other than vaguely accepting we should.
But the modelling, for example, itself is not just traffic modelling; its multimodal modelling. So, it's looking at how we move people around, what the constraints are that we put in, as well as the incentives. So, its carrots and sticks.
So, it's fair to say that county surveyors, generally, are struggling to understand how this new thinking would apply to what they do and how to do things differently. Beyond accepting that they need to do something differently, they just don't really know what.
I think, yes, we're all looking to what the guidance says, and, I guess, individual authorities are all reflecting it through in policies.
Because the guidance is quite clear. It says, in the seven goals, that it's no good just saying any more that we're going to prioritise one; we have to look at them all together. But that's not quite what I've been hearing from what you've been saying in terms of business as usual.
I think it is. It's not just business as usual, because we do have to view things in a different way.
Well, I think that, before, it would just be that you would look at it in terms of—. If you went back, as I say, 20, 30 years, you would look at exactly how many vehicles you think are going to require this, and you would build the infrastructure for it. Now, it's taking a wider view in terms of what the accessibility is, what the wider aims we're trying to get to are, and trying to reflect that in how you think and how you consider the viability of a scheme.
Okay. I wanted something clear, tangible on what that means—doing things differently—from the surveyor's point of view, but I won't dwell on that.
I'll come to you in a second, Ed Evans, if I might. I'm just going to ask Keith Jones—. In your evidence, you again praised the future generations Act, saying that an excellent example of how that could be achieved is by building an M4 around Newport, but using the existing motorway for efficient motorway access through blockages and pinch points, and changing that to better bus, cycling and walking services. So, that's your concept of the future generations Act—just building an extra road.
No, I think we have a problem that Stuart alluded to, and we should be looking at the challenges we have. We know that the economy of Wales, not just south Wales, is being stifled by the current challenges we have—the blockages on the M4, half past three, every single day of the week. We need to do something about it, and instead of just building a new road, then the overall package looked at not just resolving that issue, but at what can be done with the existing M4 motorway and adapting it and using it for the future generations of Wales. So, it's a wherewithal [correction: win win], to enable the existing highway to be used for additional bus, walking, cycling. So, use what you've got. Don't just look at it as, 'Let's just build another road and leave that one there'. Let's use what we've got and build it as well.
Have you read the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales's judgment on how she thinks the Act is being applied?
I have seen it, yes.
I understand there's a conflict between what she has said and what the current plans are.
Yes, but, on the reasoning she sets out about the way the seven different goals are being interpreted, do you understand the point she makes there?
I understand the point she makes. I think, on balance, the proposal for the black route is the correct solution for the challenge that we have around the way the economy of Wales is being thwarted by the challenges we have on the motorway.
So, doing things differently involves doing the things we've always done.
No, we would never, ever have gone back in and used the M4 for improved bus transport and cycling. It wouldn't have even been thought of. But, now we've got the Act—
This is innovative thinking—we're going to use the extra road for buses.
Using the road we've got. We don't have an extra road. You've got the new road that will give what Wales needs and desesrves—full motorway access into it and out. Businesses are—
Well, that's an argument, but the point that the future generations commissioner makes is that it's not consistent with her interpretation of the seven well-being goals, because it's simply saying the old thinking of, 'The economy deserves this, therefore that's what we should do.' It's not looking at all the other elements—the resilience and the climate change impacts. But you're setting that to one side and thinking simply using the old road for buses ticks that box.
There are also advantages for the environment from what they're doing.
Yes. Have you sat down on the motorway, or joining the motorway, in Port Talbot in the pollution? You need to be addressing the pollution. By having traffic stopped on the motorway, you are creating pollution—by having that free access. Maybe the commissioner didn't consider that. I don't know. That's a question for her.
Something needs to be done in Port Talbot as well. I'm not saying the answer there is a new road, but certainly the answer—
I would need to examine exactly the problems. One of the solutions has been to close some of the access and egress points. That wasn't acceptable to the locals.
Yes, okay. Just to move on to Ed Evans, the sector are struggling to get their head around this, aren't they? We've just heard two answers from people suggesting that they understand that the Act means doing something differently, but all of the prescriptions they've provided are the stuff we've always done. So, you acknowledge—
Sorry, I would disagree with that—[Inaudible.]
I know you do, and your disagreement is on the record, to be fair. Can I just move on to Ed Evans?
Stuart has already said that there's disagreement. It's on the record. Can I just move on to Ed Evans? My point stands, because nobody has set out doing anything different, other than taking into account accessibility, but in terms of the prescriptions they've put forward, it's what they've always put forward. Ed Evans acknowledges this in his written evidence, to be fair, which is by far the more progressive of the written evidence we've had. You're saying it requires a significant departure from the traditional cost-benefit model. Can you expand on that?
I think there are two departures to be made. I think we are struggling with this as a sector.
Let's be honest about it, we've traditionally done things in a certain way. We have new legislation in Wales now, we have a new approach, and we are struggling with it. But I think there's a responsibility on all of us, not just the sector, to improve, to raise that awareness and to get us thinking differently.
I'm not going to talk about specific schemes because there are commercial issues with projects, but I think, in terms of where we're going with this—and I alluded to this in some of the earlier responses in terms of how we measure value and how we look at the whole cost-benefit thing—we are in a different place now. I think there have been changes with WelTAG and various things like 'Planning Policy Wales' and just taking in the well-being of future generations Act and seeing how it works. We've not tested any of that yet. We've not embedded these new principles. I think, as a sector, we are—. I would say, as a finance sector, and the whole funding of these things, we've got massive steps to make, because we could do some wonderful things from a construction sector point of view and propose all sorts of things. If the funding mechanisms do not change to take that forward look, if you like, that whole-life-cost approach to things, then we'll just hit another block.
So, I think there are some fundamental changes for us culturally as a nation and as a sector. We're not there yet, I really think. We're trying to, but it's going to take time. We're doing things within the sector, bringing people together. We had a session with the future generations commissioner not so long ago. We will have some output from that. But, it's early days—it really is.
Very quickly. Chair, you were about to allow Stuart Davies to speak, but you were overruled by Lee Waters. I'd like to hear what he was going to say.
I don't think it's fair to say that we don't understand. What I've said in the submission is that we have got some work to do to interpret that, and to get it into the sort of mode of thinking. But what we're very much centred on is the fact that there will be some tensions as well. I guess, as a country, we've got this pioneering kind of thinking, which I know a lot of other countries are looking to. But we'll have decisions to make in terms of the things that we've traditionally done, which are opening up the arteries on the highway side, so that we get the economic performance. We can choose not to do that, and we can choose to take a different route, but we're competing with other economies across the border, who have got much better transport links already, and they're investing heavily. I think you see all the Transport for the North and all these that are forming—very much they're looking at the movement of goods and people around, so they get the economy going. I guess the tension we've got is when the balance between moving people by road, or moving people by rail, and moving people by cycling and walking—we have got some things, so I don't think it's fair to say that we don't—
The difference is we have a different legislative framework to them, and we are saying, at least in law, that we want to try and do things differently.
And that's what the north doesn't have. So, doing things differently involves doing things differently. And I'm not entirely sure, from the evidence I've heard this morning, that, beyond some conceptual grasp of that, of how that manifests itself in terms of what you do, is really understood.
Well, I think, just from the actual changes at the WelTAG, which are the way that schemes are prioritised and scored—
None of that's been realised yet. It's just a change to the guidance—none of it's—
But it's going to have to be. We won't be getting funding through unless that's in place.
So, I think it's a bit disingenuous to say that we, you know—. We fully admit that we need to embrace what it means, and understand that, but—
Okay. If I'm going to be accused of being disingenuous, two can play at that game. Your evidence, where you say you accept you need to do things differently, and every single action you list is the old style of working. I think that's disingenuous too.
Okay. The purpose of this was to look at roads investment, in terms of in there—. It wasn't to look at transport investment, in terms of—. So, this committee was looking at that, so the evidence that we've put forward focuses on that. It doesn't focus on the wider public transport investment—it's focusing on maintenance, and it's focusing on improvements on the roads. So, the evidence is based around that. So, I think that the account that we've given is appropriate, in terms of for the committee itself.
If I can say to all the members on the panel, if you have got comments after this session and want to review the transcript, and any other additional information you want to provide to us, we'd welcome that. But I would like to thank you all for your time this morning—we're very grateful for your time. Diolch yn fawr.
We'll take a short break, and we'll be back at 11.15 a.m.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 11:08 ac 11:18.
The meeting adjourned between 11:08 and 11:18.
Welcome back. We move to item 4, and we're today starting an inquiry on the state of Welsh roads. This is our third panel session today. I'd like to welcome the witnesses to committee this morning. I'd be very grateful if you could introduce yourselves for the public record, if we start from my left.
Duncan Buchanan, the policy director of the Road Haulage Association. We represent the commercial road haulage operators.
I'm Sally Gilson. I'm the head of skills and Welsh policy for the Freight Transport Association.
Good morning. Gareth Mole, engineering director for Cardiff Bus, representing the company.
Bore da. John Pockett, cyfarwyddwr CPT Cymru—
Good morning. I'm John Pockett, director of the Confederation of Passenger Transport Wales—
—the organisation for the bus industry.
There we are. Thank you for being with us this morning. We've got quite a large panel and we've got just over 40 minutes, so we will have to be succinct with our questions and answers as well. Don't feel you all have to answer questions that are put to you by Members—so the most appropriate person to pick up the question that comes forward.
Can I ask you: are Welsh roads deteriorating or are they getting better?
Okay, I'll go.
Certainly, from what our members are saying, they're deteriorating. The state of the roads are becoming a real patchwork quilt—that's the term that's been used. I think obviously because of the winter we've just experienced, all of the issues have just been magnified, and I think it's very difficult now to drive on any stretch of road without seeing issues.
And if somebody else wants to come in—I'll add the point as well—if you could also perhaps address what the differences are between different kinds of roads, between trunk roads and local authority-run or maintained roads. Duncan, I'll come to you, and then Gareth. Duncan.
I'd just like to reiterate the feedback from our members, that the roads are getting worse, particularly where there have been previous patched. Failures of patching and previous patching seems to be a key area where we are having an ongoing problem, and that is what is being reported to us.
From a local perspective, we've seen a deterioration over a number of years in the roads within our operating area, both in terms of the actual road and where repairs have been carried out, with further problems when those repairs have been done hastily and those problems can reappear.
How important is an effectively managed road network for the bus industry, John?
Well, I think it's fair to say the road networks deteriorate—we all know that. I think, in terms of the deterioration and what we are particularly concerned about, obviously, it's how this sort of thing affects punctuality. I think that's what you'll hear from me. Gareth has lots of examples of—Gareth's a technical guy; I can talk to you in broader terms—but it certainly is affecting the punctuality, and that affects passengers and detracts from making buses more attractive, which is what we all want to do.
Thank you. Right, we'll come into some more detailed questions, I'm sure. Joyce Watson.
Good morning, all. I want to probe whether you think that local authorities and the trunk road agents plan maintenance programmes effectively, and whether they engage and communicate with you in that process.
Well, I think, therein lies some of the problem: as always, I think, communication is the difficulty. There does appear to be a lack of co-ordination of things happening. On a local scale—Gareth can give you more detail—you get lots of examples where one utility will dig up, they'll go away, and another utility is there the next day. You know, it's a never-ending difficulty. But on a broader thing, I think there is need for more co-ordination, better communication, telling road users, bus operators and heavy goods vehicle operators when there are difficulties. And with the technology that exists now, I don't think that is too difficult a thing. There are still problems, but being forewarned is certainly being forearmed in that sense.
I think the A468 in Caerphilly is probably a prime example of how it's affected businesses. Although there were consultations a couple of years ago on this, I don't think the communication with the local businesses has been brilliant. I don't think it's—well, it's certainly had a massive impact on our members in the area, and it's ongoing, and even when that comes to an end you've got the Bedwas bridge roundabout, I think, planned not long after the end of that. So, it will continue within that area. So, certainly better communication.
I'm just going to pick up on a point as well that John just made. There should be an easy online portal that we could just go on and see where the planned roadworks are, because just as it is for a bus as it is for a HGV—we have to work out a very specific diversion route, and not all the diversion routes are actually suitable for HGVs. So, our transport planners each week, when they're planning their routes, if they could actually go in and see online exactly where all the roadworks were going to be in Wales, then it would obviously be something that they could plan ahead for.
Just regarding that specific point that you mentioned—it's in my constituency, so I've had a lot of correspondence on it—do you feel that if communication had been perfect it wouldn't have changed the disruption, the options would have been either 'do it' or 'don't do it', and that the benefits of doing it, in spite of if you carry a cost-benefit analysis, and in spite of all the cost, and the outcomes would be more beneficial? Would you say, 'Just don't do it'?
Obviously the works need doing. I think some of the complaints have been, 'Well, there's been no night-time or weekend work.' Obviously, night-time is a little bit harder within that area.
Okay, that was the comment from the members.
Okay. That's incorrect, though. So, the communication goes both ways—there has been night-time working, there has been weekend working. My view is that this whole project would cause a great deal of disruption, inevitably, and the other option would be, either you do it, and you accept that disruption, or you don't do it. I accept the communication argument, but, at the same time, these projects will cause that level of disruption.
Can I just support you on this, in a sense? It is absolutely vital that infrastructure investments are made. And, for our members, they do realise that this does involve some level of disruption some of the time. It is a perfectly acceptable thing. Knowing how long a project is going to be working, knowing the alternative routes and the mitigations are all vital things—being able to work out of hours. But we do constantly get reminded by our members that, sometimes, the planning for these investments does not, necessarily, focus on the costs of disruption. So, we do see, and I'm not criticising this particular roadworks, but we do see roadworks that are happening that are happening at snail's pace, because—. They're happening at snail's pace because that's the cheapest engineering solution to do it, without taking in and factoring in the disruption and the consequences to the road users during the period of investment. There needs to be a smarter way of working that actually takes into account the disruption during the time and trying to compress, where appropriate, where it's financially viable to do so, the time that it takes to make the infrastructure investment and get the route up and running.
Okay, moving on, on that theme, we've had evidence from the Civil Engineering Contractors Association about the fact that projects come, and are paid for, at the end the of the year—so, nearly all the work starts in March—and that it's haphazard and ad hoc. Do you share those views?
Certainly, from our association's point of view, we have no opinion on that. That is something that is purely an infrastructure thing. We're operators; we're users.
I think, Joyce, the fact that there was silence probably is that, I would think, we don't really have any direct experience of that. I have got, which might be of use, somewhere, which I made earlier, just from Aberdare bus depot, the list of disruptions from January to the end of May. You can see that there are quite extensive roadworks on that. I can't see that anything is worse—it's bad all the time, basically. I can let you have a copy of this if you want it, if it's helpful. So, I hope that gives you an idea there.
Whether you agree with the evidence that we've also had from the four Welsh police forces, and I quote:
'there is some concern that frequent minor pot hole repairs and similar works add to overall annual delays and disruption and that longer, less frequent but more substantial fixes would reduce that overall disruption in your timelines.'
I think when they do a cheap fill of a pothole, then, obviously, yes, it's going to cause more disruptions in the end, because you're going to be forever refilling it, whereas if it was actually a proper fix in the first place, a lasting fix, then that would always be preferable.
I asked my colleagues this and we had a bit of a kick-around and discussion of it, and I think what happens is that everyone thinks their bit of the world is worse than everywhere else. But if we really are honest about it we don't actually think things are worse here than they are, certainly, in England. There is a slight suspicion that things might be a little bit better in Scotland than they are elsewhere. But that's only a suspicion.
We're on three, now, yes. Can I ask the panel—? We had some evidence from the Civil Engineering Contractors Association that the speed of decision making tends to be stifled and hindered by the political process and the need to consider many different points of view, go through the planning process, think about the impacts. Do you think projects are hindered by that?
I can only speak in general terms really, Hefin. I haven't had any evidence of that. I haven't had members approaching me and raising anything specific about that sort of thing. So, I don't really feel I can give you any other answer, speaking from my experience from my members.
I suppose what I'm thinking is, maybe where a politician has to make a decision, whether that's at local or national level, you may be concerned about the adverse effects on public opinion and therefore may delay a decision while you kick it around politically.
I think that's the nature, isn't it, of being a politician. You know, you either—
No. I think that either you make a decision and you talk to everybody and then you can say, 'Well, I did ask you—I'm not telling you what to do, but you can tell me, perhaps', or else you make a decision and then you get all your electors complaining, 'You didn't ask us', I suppose.
I suppose the big road, the M4 around Newport, would possibly, perhaps, fall into that category. It's obviously vital for freight in Wales to try and cut down on the congestion, and we've been talking about this for so many years within our freight council. We just need a decision, basically, would be what I'd say.
Okay. And then let's contrast that with how local authorities and contractors and agents engage effectively with the haulage and bus industries. Do you feel that there is effective engagement on projects?
One of the complaints I've got is that there is—again, I come back to lack of communication. I've got, in fact, a note here that I made. Probably I can do no better than to read it out: one thing that's become apparent is that, in some authorities, there's no communication between the works department, for want of a better expression, and the transport department, leading to roadworks appearing in some areas without the knowledge of operators. I'm obviously talking of bus operators. I'm sure my colleagues would say the same of—
That's a lack of involvement at the selection of the scheme stage—is that what you're talking about? So, schemes are popping up without you even having any knowledge.
Indeed, yes. Yes. But I think that it's more sort of—it happens generally, then.
Okay. So, it is the case that there is a problem when it comes to the selection of schemes and engagement with stakeholders. What about then the detail when schemes are selected? So, if you see a scheme popping up that you were not consulted on, do you feel then that you're able to engage and manage the detail and change and influence the way that scheme is introduced and completed?
It's much better to engage early. Something that we find—. There are certain things that we as an industry find that we have to remind people of quite a lot of the time, and that is that lorries are actually very large; you might notice them on the road. But the point is that when schemes are being developed they need to be developed so that they work for absolutely every road user. That's cyclists, motorcyclists, lorries, everybody. Sometimes, we find that some schemes are developed with the idea of being more oriented towards some road users rather than others. So, that's a theme that we're seeing certainly in London at the moment, where there is overlooking of the essential need to move goods. And that's where we get some frustrations, where there's some intransigence once the scheme has been put in place about thinking about the other road users that aren't your No. 1 priority, but they still have to be accommodated. So, what I would say is: good notice, good early consultation and always remember that you're building roads and infrastructure for all road users, not just some.
I think everybody is in agreement that there's not enough funding going into roads at the moment, but perhaps you can give us some idea of where you feel the investment should be—so, local roads and trunk roads and motorway network. Given the evidence that suggests a lack of funding for major local authority enhancement projects, is the focus on the trunk road and motorway network appropriate? Obviously, there seems to be a preponderance of spending money on the larger networks rather than on local networks, but how would it—? Particularly with yourself, John, I would have thought that the impact of that sort of spending—. Gareth.
Yes, obviously, our interest is on the local road network and the effect it has us as an operation, and ultimately our customer. Obviously, we operate within a very tight area compared to the haulage industry. So, we obviously believe that the focus should be on improving that, especially as the roads get more used by more different types of modes. That is important. We need to remember as well that the city is growing at a quick rate and it's not going to get better soon.
I think there has been traditionally a strong emphasis on the strategic roads, and I think we've to some extent neglected the major local roads, the ones that sit immediately below the strategic road networks that we have. What's ended up happening is that we've ended up using our strategic road networks, which are designed for long-distance and through traffic—they're being used for local journeys. Improvements to the major local roads will have a positive impact on the strategic roads as well as the local roads. So, it will help buses, it will help lorries, it will help all road users if we improve those more major local roads—the local trunk roads and high streets that we all use every day.
Yes. Can I—? I want to introduce just another part. The proliferation of housing projects, particularly around places like Cardiff and that: do you think there's enough of a holistic approach taken because of their impact on, particularly, the local road infrastructure, et cetera? Do you think that that's happening or not? Or is it just a matter of, 'We'll build these houses and hope that people can get out of them and onto the road'?
Well, David, I think—you look at what's happening out between Llandaff and Radyr on the Llantrisant road. That is a local—well, a local trunk road, if you like. It's a major route coming into Cardiff. I think that's the sort of thing that Duncan was talking of. They are going to build that huge number of houses there, and I do wonder—. There may well be plans, but I don't know where else you can put better road infrastructure. I suppose I could say—as I would say, from the bus industry—'Put park-and-ride and have bus lanes bringing them all in', but, being realistic, I think there isn't a holistic—. There hasn't been, historically, I don't think. One of the gripes I think you've heard from me in the past is that, when housing estates were built, they were very unfriendly—they were very unfriendly to buses, they were very unfriendly to anybody other than those who had their car parked on their drive; they were very unfriendly to cyclists, very unfriendly to walkers. I think there is a need—. Things are better, but I think there is still an innate difficulty there.
I would agree with John there, that the number of developments that are going on in the city at the moment—. We, as an industry, have had more of a say and have been in more at the start of those projects, rather than an afterthought, but, as with all communication, it's not perfect and it could be better, particularly—. One of the points we wanted to make is about standards—the standard of the road build. I don't mean in terms of quality, but in terms of, if a control measure is being put in place, is that friendly to buses, is that friendly to trucks, cycles, cars, et cetera? That's one thing we do suffer with, that you can have different standards of speed humps, for example—ones that are fine for our vehicles and customers, and ones that damage our vehicles and are not good for our customers.
And, obviously, there's a huge push to build more and more houses, but—. I'm going to move out of the city and to Monmouth, the gateway into Wales. Through Monmouth the traffic is absolutely horrendous now on a daily basis, and it's getting progressively worse. With more and more houses being built within Monmouthshire, this is only going to get worse. There seems to be very little joined-up thinking of building a housing estate and then the impact perhaps just slightly further down. It's not necessarily straight away on the doorstep; it's the additional congestion then that appears within the main roads around that as well.
And, lastly, do you feel that—or do you have a comment on how perhaps Wales does its major enhancements to the road infrastructure, compared to the rest of the United Kingdom?
Again, we hear a lot of talk about the Heads of the Valleys, you know, the bit between Abergavenny or Gilwern and Brynmawr. Yes, things have gone wrong there, but what we seem to forget is that for every road scheme—being fair to contractors, local authorities and the trunk road authority as well—that you hear bad news about, lots of other schemes have gone on. I'm thinking of that one, Joyce, between Llanddowror that now makes Tenby so wonderfully easy to get to. That was completed ahead of schedule, but the media concentrate on the bad things. I honestly don't know. I'm sure if you had a colleague of mine from England, they could give you the same tale about what happens in England. I don't hear that anything is any better, any worse in Wales. I don't think it's that bad, really. Avoid the bit between Brynmawr and Gilwern at the moment is what I do.
I don't think Wales is special in that sense. It's the same across the UK.
In relation to the whole conversation so far, obviously your experience is all south Wales, but to me the gateway for Wales is the Flintshire-Cheshire border, so much so that the hotel on the border is called the Gateway to Wales. Unfortunately, it burnt down earlier this year, but that's another story—not symbolic, I emphasise.
For as long as I can remember, people have complained about traffic jams on the bank holiday weekends at Easter and the spring, because of the end-of-year proliferation of funding. For years, I've been hearing travellers complain, particularly on the holiday routes, but more broadly, including the hauliers on the A55 up to Holyhead, not so much about the political process that's led to that, but about the frustration of being stuck in a queue again or missing a ferry or whatever it might be. Given your earlier comments and your comments in this context, are not your drivers, your members, feeding back frustrations about the consequences of political decisions, even if they're not considering the political decisions themselves?
We get a lot of feedback from our members about congestion and about underinvestment in roads generally. And, as I said earlier on, it's a bit like you think it's worse wherever you happen to be. But it's very even across the country; everyone is in a similar situation. I have to say that the issue of holiday traffic is something that is particular to some areas. That is something that is common. Cornwall is an example where it feels like it's cut off from a road haulage perspective at some times of the year, and no doubt we have the same thing elsewhere. We're trying to put a quart into a pint pot at times and that is frustrating for everyone. Having said that, for the professional road haulage operators, they do know this traffic is coming when it's almost planned congestion like that. So they do take things into account and they do adjust, but it is frustrating and it undermines the economic performance and the competitiveness of the businesses that are waiting for the goods. And that's the important thing: it's how congestion messes with competitiveness and productivity that you need to be focused on.
And then they take the back lane through my village, but that's another story.
The issue I'm really asking about is timing and co-ordination, which we seemed to skate over earlier. Obviously there have got to be roadworks, obviously there have got to be maintenance and improvements, but it's where—given evidence we heard in the earlier sessions—there needs to be better co-ordination, so you don't get a convergence of different programmes being delivered at the same time on the same network, and also you don't get that year-end issue that we heard about earlier, which, it seems, certainly in certain areas, your members may comment on, not in the context of political decision making, but in the context of their own frustration and the impact on their schedules.
There is always frustration caused by a perception of poor budgetary planning and what have you. Sometimes, opportunistic roadworks, where budget becomes available towards the end of the year, are desirable things—use the budget otherwise it goes back to Treasury and it gets lost. So, what do you do? You use the budget up or you don't use the budget up. I can understand how some of these things happen—they're frustrating—because when you can't plan for disruption, that's when it gets particularly costly for people who are involved in supply chains. If you can plan around congestion, the good communications that we talked about earlier on are part of it. And in terms of road haulage vehicles, they're very large vehicles and they need to be planned carefully. The routes need to be suitable for large vehicles; don't direct people in the wrong place. We had an incident very recently in England where Highways England did an absolute debacle of a job putting in some of the diversion signs, and then not the others, then the lorries are going through the wrong places. That's the sort of thing that, really, you can plan out and you can avoid if you do things properly and carefully. Think things through and make sure that you keep in mind all of the road users—it's not just about cars—and when you're dealing with big vehicles like buses and big vehicles like lorries, you need to make sure that the routes are suitable.
And should we be asking the Welsh Government to address the 'use it or lose it' scenario you describe?
I think that's a political issue for you to think about.
From a user perspective, just better planning is always better. We can work around most things as an industry.
It's the same for us on a local basis. If we know in advance what the constraints are going to be, we need to advise our customer base, because if they're caught in it they're not really concerned, they just want to get home of an evening or get to where they're going out. The fact that they're delayed because of X, Y or Z or as a result of congestion from X, Y or Z is not really—. And we get, as you can imagine, plenty of feedback when there is that, but the more we have in terms of notification to let our customers know, and I think that's not just for us in Cardiff; I think that's from an industry point of view.
John, earlier on you mentioned roadworks being quite heavily concentrated in, I think, January to May time. So, is it your view that there are a lot then?
I think that was Duncan, actually.
You referred to this—
Sorry, I think I was sort of saying that I don't think they are concentrated. This shows that they were spread over the five months more or less equally.
Right, okay. So, is it your view that roadworks are concentrated in the spring time?
No, I think you get—. I think the famous slippage was available at the end of the financial year with authorities, and that. I can have a look at this, but nothing when I was looking at this suggested it was causing any more of a problem than the ordinary maintenance, re-surfacing of roads. I see hedge and grass cutting, gas main replacement—those things, I think, are ongoing. I don't think—. Gareth will know better in terms of Cardiff than I can answer. I don't hear particular complaints that it's bad at any particular time of the year. It's poorly spread and the information is poor throughout the year.
Anecdotally, operating buses in the city, you would say that October, November and December would be avoided for major traffic, whether that was fact or not, but there would be a reluctance to do it at that time with the build-up to the festive season. And then, obviously, that would concentrate the works elsewhere, but that would be perhaps a question for the local authorities, so those responsible.
Thanks. Duncan Buchanan said a number of times that roads should be designed for all users, but are there specific things that the haulage and the bus industry think should be taken into account?
Certainly, there needs to be a real understanding of the swept envelope of vehicles when designing schemes. Some schemes now seem to be concentrating on narrowing roads, and that makes manoeuvring large vehicles very difficult. The allocation of road space needs to be thought through, so that it works for everyone. So, literally it's just make sure when you're designing infrastructure that you appreciate that the larger vehicles are there—that's buses and lorries.
The Traffic Commissioner for Wales has suggested that heavy goods vehicles might be permitted to use bus lanes. Do you have a view on that?
They're a potentially useful thing. They do exist in a number of areas now. I know that Exeter has some. There's one near where I live in south London where that is the case. I would be surprised if that worked in all circumstances. There may be very good reasons for not allowing it, but there also may well be very good reasons for allowing lorries to use bus lanes where approprate—where there's a real advantage for supply chains and for getting goods in and out of cities.
What about vulnerable road users? I'm thinking in particular of cyclists.
You have to take that into account.
It's something that when you're planning these things, you need to look at the users. That's what I'm saying: if you have a lot of interfaces with cyclists, you might decide that it is completely inappropriate.
So, you think where there are lots of cyclists, it wouldn't be appropriate.
In an instance where a HGV lane is used by cyclists, you think that would be inappropriate.
It may well be. It depends on the configuration of the roads. You have to be careful of mixing cyclists with lorries. Part of that is about the infrastructure that you do and how you design it, so that you don't put cyclists into vulnerable positions, into vulnerable places next to other vehicles.
I think you will find that there's a little bit of a divergence here now between our haulage colleagues and us. The traffic commissioner's come up with it. I've asked him for clarification and he says he's talking about a few instances on the outskirts of large conurbations. But the difficulty I think would arise—and we were talking about it in the room beforehand—is that—. I'm sure, like our members, my colleague's members are perfect in their use of the roads, but you will get people who will drive in and say, 'Oh, honest, guv, I didn't know that I couldn't use the bus lane here.' I think that, Lee, is where the practical thing is. It needs to be looked at very carefully. I think we would, per se, be opposed to it, but if the Government looks at it and thinks of it, it needs to be absolutely totally 150 per cent properly policed. So, that's what I think. But I think it would be fair to say that we would take a firm standpoint that we would be opposed to it. If I was involved in the haulage industry, I'd be in favour of it, and I can understand that.
Okay. Just to move on to a different—. Sorry, Sally, did you want to say anything?
I was just going to pick up on the point there that consistency is key. There's no point in having HGVs allowed in this area and not that area; it gets very confusing. It would either lead to underuse or overuse, so it's just got to make sure that the consistency is there.
I think, just very quickly, Lee, sorry, we've got enough examples of white van man who totally ignores bus lanes as it is. So, there is a precedent that puts fear in your head. I'm not saying that we're talking about the white van man, but there is that sort of mentality with the smaller operators, if you like.
Okay. So, the weight of that evidence I'm taking to mean that we should apply the precautionary principle. Is that a fair summary?
The precautionary what, sorry?
I think we would, as a principle, say 'We don't support it.'
I would agree with being careful, but don't rule it out as an opportunity to improve traffic flow and what have you, where it's appropriate. It's case-by-case basis.
Yes, but you may not do it on many roads. You may actually be very specific. Where inconsistency is damaging is where you have a bus lane that has one set of hours, then a 100m later has a different set of hours, then 100m after that goes back to the first set of hours. I have seen those sorts of things. Consistency on a particular road is important. So, you can't have HGVs, no HGVs, HGVs, no HGVs, changing; you need to think of it as a route.
Okay. Fair point. I did take Sally's point to be slightly wider than that, though.
Sort of, yes. It can get incredibly confusing. If you're talking city to city, then obviously, people expect differences. But it's the consistency within cities.
Thank you. Just to move on, when you gave evidence three years ago to the Public Accounts Committee on roads, you mentioned that there was a need for freight consolidation centres, lorry parking and loading facilities and traffic management technology. Has there been progress in this area, and is this a need that still remains?
I'll certainly pick up on the facilities. There has been no progress whatsoever, but that, again, is not just Wales; that's across the whole of the UK. There is a real issue with regard to driver facilities. A lot of the parking areas seem to be diminishing, and as I'm sure you're all aware, by law a driver needs to take a break—45 minutes, or obviously, if they're sleeping overnight. And they need a safe and secure—. Especially with the recent events that have happened, it's got to be a secure area. But I'd actually love to see Wales almost have a gold standard, where you have decent toilets and showers, somewhere healthy to eat, somewhere to exercise. We're trying to promote this sector to younger people and the only way you're going to be able to do that is by providing these kinds of facilities. They are crucial. It's not something that—. It shouldn't just be aspirational; it's something that's actually required.
That fits neatly with the other point that I wanted to ask you about, which is in terms of the future projections of where the industry might go and the introduction of driverless technology. We've had interesting evidence on the development we might expect to see 10 years to 20 years hence. There's much talk about these large phantom convoys of lorries dominating motorways—and this is a question both to the bus industry and the haulage industry—but given what we know is likely to happen within 20 years or more, what changes to infrastructure need to take place to facilitate that?
First, if I could just talk about the driver facilities in this context. I think 20 years is optimistic. We're seeing, already, when people are looking at autonomous vehicles, some of the problems that are occurring where drivers are required to retake control, and that is not working as people assume it's going to work. There are many, many issues yet to be resolved. You talked about—I can't remember the exact word; I think you were referring to platooning. You used a different word—
I haven't come across that one before. Interesting. Platooning is an interesting technical exercise. Commercialising platooning is going to be a challenge, because the operational benefits, financially, are really quite small. The carbon savings are small in the overall running of things. But, as part of the improvement of road safety, the improvement of the efficiency of vehicles, it's something that is going to happen. But platooning does not take away drivers. Drivers still need rest. They need to take their mandatory rest. It's absolutely critical for road safety that they have high-quality rest. It's shameful, in the twenty-first century, how we treat drivers in this country and across Europe. It's really appalling. They don't have good facilities and we have people putting in more and more restrictions on lay-bys and taking lay-bys away. It's unjust to blame lorry drivers for congestion exclusively. They're doing a job that is delivering the food, the clothes, the stuff we need every day, and we need to treat them properly as good-quality human beings, and that is an infrastructure thing that needs to be provided. That's where I'm coming from.
As these are commercial operations, isn't there a responsibility on the private sector to provide these facilities?
The private sector does provide a lot of these facilities.
The lorry parking facilities. One of the biggest problems we have is getting planning permission, and it's a legitimate use of the road network to actually have lay-bys and safe places for people to stop. It's just as much for lorry drivers as for anyone else. We are strong supporters of paid-for lorry parking. What we've had is 30 years of policy that has just passed it over to the private sector, without, necessarily, understanding that we need the support through the planning system.
Okay. In terms of the platooning point, it was my understanding of how this might work that you have large convoys of lorries going down a motorway, which, depending on how the road layout is organised, could make it difficult for people in cars to pull off at junctions if this large platoon is taking up a lot of space. So, as these become more common—and I hear what you say about the marginal benefits—is there a case for having dedicated lanes, for example, for large lorries like this?
I think that's an expensive way of using your infrastructure. I think dedicated lanes for any single road user starts becoming punishingly expensive and we need to use our roads flexibly and use them in a way that works for all road users. It's the point that I made right at the beginning: we need to create a common-use infrastructure that works, and that includes accommodating buses, accommodating lorries, cars and delivery vans. Everyone needs to be accommodated.
But these platoons could exclude other road users, couldn't they, unless they're managed carefully.
I would not support dedicated lorry roads.
So, how would you manage the exclusion of other road users, potentially, by these platoons?
The platoons would be using the same—. As I understand it, and I'm not an advocate of platoons or not, my understanding is that they're intended to use the roads in exactly the same way as—