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Are we still on the road to nowhere? There's an extra pounds 8bn to spend on improving transport but has North Wales hit a dead end in the share out? asks Glyn Mon Hughes.

Byline: Glyn Mon Hughes

ANOTHER false dawn and another missed opportunity to put North Wales on the road map to prosperity? That's the verdict of many businesses in the region on the Welsh Assembly's recently announced pounds 8bn transport package. To some it seems that the lion's share of investment is going into strengthening the road network in South Wales leaving other parts of Wales to pick up the crumbs.

The A55, upon which more than pounds 1bn has been spent over recent years, has attracted its fair share of criticism. The area around Queensferry and Ewloe, despite warranting much-needed improvements to traffic flow, has practically turned drivers grey as they waited with ever-diminishing patience to get to work or some vital appointment.

Announcing details of the programme, economic development and transport minister Andrew Davies said the Transport (Wales) Bill and the Railways Bill will give the Assembly Government a coherent set of transport powers for the first time.

Additional improvements will be made to the A494/A550/A55 corridor in North Wales with a possible additional bridge across the Dee at Queensferry.

Yet a good many companies have called for the A55 to be widened to three lanes in each direction and there is no mention of that in any of Davies' proposals. Neither is there mention of improvements to the notoriously slow and accident-prone A483, between Ruabon and Oswestry, to the south of Wrexham where one of the main arterial roads passing between the north and the south is, effectively, a single carriageway.

Council chiefs in Wrexham last week said they were very disappointed after discovering that a pounds 20m road link to improve access to the town's main industrial estate - the second biggest in Wales - is being postponed for 12 months and will not now start until 2009.

Council leader Neil Rogers, who said there was no guarantee the project would start even then, added: ``I fear for the future because the industrialists there are looking for better road links towards the A483. It could have a very damaging effect on the local economy. ''

``We've got mixed views about transport issues, '' said the retiring North Wales CBI chairman Tony Allan. ``Most goods in North Wales go east-west, either to Holyhead or to places like Liverpool, Manchester or beyond. As for a road from north to south, people who come up north say there's no demand for such a road.

``But a good many people are frustrated at making calls to beef up the A55 and, despite all that is said, nothing happens. They're also furious at roadworks which happen in the summer. Having said that, the new road around Queensferry is excellent and a real boost. It's a shame the road could not be wider further along the coast and there's a real push for that. ''

Harsh criticism also came from Janet Ryder, The concrete sides of the A55 flyover at St Asaph have not been replaced four years after a lorry plunged over the sidePlaid Cymru AM for North Wales: ``This 15-year plan offers no hope to those who would like to attend games at the Millennium Stadium or performances at Wales Millennium Centre without facing a four or five-hour journey, '' she said.

But, to go south quickly, new air services have been proposed.

``Air services have a vital role to play in Wales, '' said Davies, who already announced a new, twice-daily service between Swansea, Cardiff and RAF Valley to start in 2006.

Others, though, are not so sure the market is there for such a service, bearing in mind that Air Wales operates from Liverpool to Cardiff.

``As a former local government officer who had to travel regularly to the Welsh Office in Cardiff, I know from painful experience what a nightmare the journey it is by road or rail, '' said Marshall Morris, Friends of Liverpool Airport chairman.

``The Air Wales service from Liverpool to Cardiff would be of immense benefit to local government, health authority, higher education, WDA, WTB, broadcasters, employees who currently have to travel to Cardiff. The catchment area would draw on the Wrexham and Deeside districts and would reach west as far as the River Conwy. ''

The Road Haulage Association, a pivotal organisation when it comes to planning future transport needs, seems a little divided when it comes to the new transport bill.

``Obviously, the priority for us is the gateway into Wales and that's the M4 into industrial South Wales, '' said Bristol-based regional director Mike Farmer. ``Of course, North-South links are important but there is a big barrier across the middle of Wales.

``But you have to ask how much north-south traffic there really is. I know many of our members are concerned, if they are based in west Wales, how they might transport goods to the north. ''

There is a welcome from the RHA for the new toll motor way in South Wales, though, despite the fact that pounds 350m will be spent on that, as opposed to a mere pounds 75m on the A55.

``We're just disappointed there will be a toll on this welcome new road, '' added Farmer.

His views were largely reflected by his colleague in the north, Geoff Dunning.

``Money spent by government does tend to follow the biggest problem, '' he said. ``There are bigger transport problems in South Wales which have to be dealt with, so North Wales will appear to lose out. It's the same in England. ''

Yet, there are some positive aspects which could come out of the new transport bill. Jim O'Toole, managing director of the Port of Mostyn, noted that more money is to be invested in Holyhead, sign alling something of a revival of interest by the Assembly in the Welsh ports industry.

``The Marco Polo initiative is a new European venture dealing with short-sea shipping, '' he said. ``Instead of us seeing the M6 and major routes like that all clogged up, the new initiative will have lots of smaller ships sailing around the coast.

``We are also rail-connected at Mostyn and we would like to see the development of a rail freight facility here. There is Wentloog in the south but there's nothing similar in the north. '' False dawns and false trails? Maybe. But transport remains a Welsh necessity.

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Rush hour congestion on the A55 looks set to stay unless more cash is made available for improvements
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Dec 22, 2004
Words:1061
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