Marc Lewis BSc (Hons), MSc, FCILT.
PhD Student, Social Policy (Integrated Transport and Socio-Economic Development) at Prifysgol Bangor / Bangor University, College of Business, Law, Education and Social Sciences, School of Social Sciences: firstname.lastname@example.org
Title of the research: 'Making connections? – The potential socio-economic impacts of an all-Wales integrated transport system.’
Research question: Is there evidence from other small European countries (the Netherlands, Switzerland, Catalonia, Ireland and Scotland), and from Germany as a large federal state, that an integrated transport system could assist in addressing Wales’ intractable levels of poverty and deprivation and problems of economic development? If so, what would such a transport system look like and how would it operate?
Research abstract: This research will analyse the relationship between the condition of Wales’ transport system and socio-economic indicators. It will ask the question: ‘Does Wales’s inadequate transport network of disconnected, unelectrified and low capacity railways, and mainly single carriageway, topographically-dictated roads, reinforce and promote poor socio-economic outcomes?’ This research will seek to confirm evidence that appropriate transport investment does produce positive economic and social outcomes. Primarily, enabling the reduction of government expenditure on poverty and deprivation for transfer to economic development, thus creating a ‘virtuous circle’ of reduced social disadvantage and the promotion of environmentally and socially sustainable growth in Wales.
The problem: Wales displays relatively high levels of both urban (cities and ‘the valleys’) and rural (small towns and countryside) deprivation in comparison with England. Across a range of statistical indicators, the country compares less favourably with other parts of the UK. The Office for National Statistics (2016) reports that gross disposable household income (GDHI) provisional estimates for 2014 are £17,965 for the UK but only £15,302 for Wales, 85.2% of that for the UK. The National Assembly for Wales Rural Development Sub-committee report ‘Poverty and Deprivation in Rural Wales (Davis et al, 2008), said of the 2008 Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation results that ‘Almost half of ‘income deprived’ people live in the most deprived 30% of Wales.’ Consequently, it follows that the other half is spread over the remaining 70% of Wales. The report ‘Prosperity without Poverty: A framework for Wales’ (Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Bevan Foundation, 2016), estimates that £1 in every £5 (i.e. 20%) spent on public services in Wales is linked to poverty. This amounts to £3.6 billion every year – equivalent to £1,150 for every person in Wales.
Both official, academic and third sector research consistently indicates that the Welsh economy displays an over-dependence on ‘primary’ and ‘branch’ industries and under-capitalised small and medium enterprises (SMEs). There is no equivalent of the German ‘Mittelstand’ independent SMEs with a strong focus on specialist manufacturing. The comparatively low workplace gross value added (GVA) for Wales in 2014 was 71.4% of that for the UK (Welsh Government 2015). Poor access to employment, goods and services and over-dependence on marginal farming and ‘low value’ tourism results in relatively low multiplier effects for local economies. In addition, the current ‘stripping out’ of better-paid jobs in the public sector is another factor contributing to this problem.
The Welsh Government’s 2013 local authority population projections derived from the 2011 census indicate that Wales has, and will have, a demographic profile with a relative over-representation of those with chronic health problems, together with older people in need of social support. The outwards migration of young people to find work is also a serious concern, particularly where this has led to the erosion of the Welsh language in those communities where it the primary means of communication and cultural transmission.
In their evidence to the UK House of Commons Select Committee on Welsh Affairs CBI Wales (2003) observed that ‘Transport is generally regarded by business as being towards the top of the list of priorities for improving the climate for investment and performance.’ However, the transport system of Wales is sub-optimal for reasons of topography and past and present demographic, political and socio-economic patterns. Both road and rail arteries are often of poor quality and with little or no capacity to deal with future traffic demand growth.
The concentration of some two-thirds of the population in the three main cities of Cardiff, Swansea and Newport, and the adjacent valleys to the north, has necessarily created a ‘transport sub-region’ in the south east of the country. The concentration of population and industry around Wrexham and Deeside in the north east of country also functions as a second ‘transport sub-region.’ Both regions require appropriate interventions.
Before devolution the once comprehensive rail network had never functioned as a national system. The closure of much of it prior to and under the ‘Beeching Report’ of 1963 not only weakened already tenuous north – south links and left large gaps in the network, but also undermined the Welsh economy as jobs in the operation and maintenance of the railways were eliminated and businesses lost access to rail. Gibbons et al (2017) comment that their research on rail disinvestment found ‘…cuts in access to rail caused falls in population in affected areas, loss of educated and skilled workers, and an ageing population.’ Unlike Scotland the closures were largely uncontested at national level as by the time the, then new, Welsh Office had gained transport duties the closure programme was largely complete. Subsequently the ‘Wales & Borders’ network has seen a small number of station and passenger line re-openings and has received some investment in infrastructure, signalling and station improvements.
The highways system that was left to handle much of Wales’ transport needs was, excepting the M4 and the A55 ‘North Wales Expressway,’ essentially a collection of local roads reclassified as a national network. Over the years there have been incremental improvements such as town bypasses, new bridges, accident and congestion spot route deviations and local on-line alignment upgrades. For economic development reasons since 2011 the policy emphasis has been on west – east transits. However, a 2014 risk rating of the Welsh ‘A road’ network by the Road Safety Foundation classifies most links in north, mid and west Wales as either ‘medium risk,’ ‘medium-high risk’ or ’high risk,’ irrespective of the direction of traffic flows.