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Change set to gather pace.

Byline: By ANDREW DAVIES

Economic Development and Transport Minister Andrew Davies outlines the future of transportation in Wales in the light of this week's Queen's Speech

SINCE taking over the transport portfolio last year, I have been working closely with the Department for Transport and Welsh Office ministers to ensure we create the right organisational and statutory framework to give the Welsh Assembly Government a clear set of transport related powers.

The Queen's Speech on Tuesday confirmed that two vital pieces of transport legislation will be taken forward in the next session of parliament. The Transport (Wales) Bill and the Railways Bill will together pave the way for the development of a distinctive, integrated transport agenda for Wales, encompassing rail, road and air services.

These new and significant powers will enable the Assembly Government to produce a statutory Wales Transport Strategy which will consider the transport needs of Wales as a whole, and ensure that local transport services are co-ordinated and implemented on a strategic basis. Further, the Assembly Government will be able to make provision for public transport services, and provide financial assistance for air services and facilities where they would otherwise not be provided.

The Railways Bill will streamline the organisation of the railway industry and improve this important public service. The Strategic Rail Authority would be wound up and safety functions would pass to the Office of Rail Regulation. The new arrangements will enable the Assembly Government to specify the level of rail fares, and decide how services are run as part of the Wales and Borders franchise, and will be involved in all proposals for letting franchises that serve Wales.

We will be establishing a new Public Transport Users' watchdog for Wales, which will ensure the voice of the passenger is heard, enabling us to respond directly to issues that affect the road, rail, or air user.

In many ways, traffic growth is a reflection of our economic progress and, if we are to sustain and grow the staggering transformation of our economy, we need to pay particular attention to the congested parts of our road network.

These powers will give us far greater scope to encourage the development of an integrated approach across transport modes, which, for example, will assist in the need to tackle the excessively high rates of car dependency in Wales.

For example, in South East Wales, we are working to boost the capacity of the Valleys Lines and to reopen the Vale of Glamorgan and Ebbw Valley lines. This will create a substantial metropolitan rail network centred on Cardiff, linked with investment in key bus routes and improved bus-rail interchanges.

In addition, the Assembly will have the power to secure transport services in areas where they would not otherwise be provided. This, together with continued investment in walking and cycling schemes and the Safe Routes to Schools programme, will give people real alternatives to using their cars.

The Welsh Assembly Government has made significant progress in key transport areas. Transport plays a vital role in the development of our economy, and we now need to increase the pace of change to deliver a fully integrated transport system, widening employment opportunities, spreading prosperity and protecting the environment.

These new powers are excellent news for Wales, and excellent news for the increasing numbers of public transport users.

They put us on track towards delivering a transport network we can be proud of.
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Nov 25, 2004
Words:569
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