2023 - 5 big changes in transport in Wales

Changing direction takes you to a different destination...

We ask our transport system to do a lot of things, but we’ve not asked it to make its contribution to our shared challenge of reducing carbon emissions. Indeed, transport is the sector that has contributed the least to the legal duty to cut emissions. Unless that changes we will not meet our overall NetZero imperative.

It is difficult for any incoming Transport Minister to change much in the short-term - road and rail projects take upwards of seven years to implement, and the ongoing pipeline of schemes means that significant spending has already been committed and political expectations raised by the time a new Minister takes office. Though the political spotlight is inevitably on short-term problems, significant change is a longer term project. Over and above the day-to-day activity of keeping a transport system on track I have tried to focus on how to ‘change the wiring’ to secure medium to long-term change.

For all its challenges 2023 has been a year in which transport policy in Wales has changed track.

There have been five significant shifts this year which take us in a new direction:

1.     New road building policy

On taking office we established a panel of experts to advise on how we could square our carbon targets with the ‘predict and provide’ approach to road building that has contributed to the long-term trend of increasing car journeys and decreasing public transport trips.

In response to the independent report of the Roads Review Panel in February the Cabinet agreed to continue to invest in roads, but to pay greater attention to maintaining the roads we already have before building new, as well as giving people an attractive alternative to the private car for routine journeys.

As the final report of Lord Burns’ independent North Wales Transport Commission (another significant achievement this year) made clear ‘for many people, particularly those in rural areas, cars will continue to be the main way they make many journeys’. But we need to give people real alternatives for them to choose.

The Welsh Government has agreed that our investment in roads will be subject to four tests:
  • Does it support modal shift and reduce carbon emissions?
  • Can schemes designed to improve road safety be achieved through small-scale changes, such as lowering speed limits, rather than increases in road capacity?
  • Is the road scheme needed to adapt to the impact climate change is already having? If so how can it be designed in a way that contributes meaningfully to modal shift?
  • If a new road is needed to provide access to jobs or new development is it consistent with Future Wales / Planning Policy Wales 11, which includes the principle of maximising the opportunity of access by sustainable means? And how can any new access road be designed to prevent ‘rat-running’?
The Welsh Government’s future road building tests state that in developing schemes the focus should be on minimising carbon emissions, not increasing road capacity, not increasing emissions through higher vehicle speeds and not adversely affecting ecologically valuable sites.

The panel applied these tests to all 50 roads schemes in development and recommended 15 should proceed in their original form, with others scaled back, postponed or cancelled.

The approach will also be mirrored in the way we approach road maintenance too. The independent review of the annual maintenance programmes on the Strategic Road Network, led by Matthew Lugg, set out a new approach. We have accepted the recommendations to:
  • Primarily invest in routine and capital maintenance to ensure the trunk road network is safe and serviceable;
  • Maintenance work will maximise every opportunity to deliver modal shift, provide a net benefit for biodiversity, minimise pollution and apply the carbon reduction hierarchy when maintaining and operating the SRN.
  • The future Asset Management Programme will not assume like-for-like replacement of infrastructure. For example, it may be possible to reduce the costs of asset renewal by reducing the speed or capacity of the road.
This year we have also consulted on a comprehensive revision to WelTAG and are working on stronger governance arrangements to ensure it is applied consistently.

2.     Slower speeds in urban areas

On most local roads the speed limit has been 30mph and communities have had to make a case to lower speeds on individual streets to 20mph. From September 17th we turned that on its head.

The default speed limit on residential or busy pedestrian streets with street lights (so called ‘restricted roads’) switched to 20mph, but Councils have the power to keep sections at 30mph.

It is estimated that the change could result – every year - in 40% fewer collisions, 6 to 10 lives saved, and between 1200 to 2000 people avoiding injury. Research by Edinburgh Napier University has estimated this will save the Welsh NHS around £92m in the first year alone - three times the initial cost of implementation.

Before the new law came into effect just 2% of roads by length in Wales were 20mph, it now stands at 37%. The proportion of 30mph roads has dropped from 37% to 3%.

Councils remain the local Highway Authorities and have the flexibility to set local speed limits ‘that are right for individual roads, reflecting local needs and considerations’. The use of this discretion has varied between different Councils and we are working with them on a review of implementation and whether further changes are needed to the guidance or the way it is being interpreted.

“The significance of the change being made in Wales should not be underestimated. No country has previously chosen to reduce the default speed limit for urban areas to 20mph” according to the report of the Taskforce that advised the Welsh Government on its implementation.

The primary driver for this reform is road safety, but a significant secondary benefit is to create a local environment that is more conductive to active travel. Vehicle speeds are one of the key reasons why people do not walk or cycle or do not allow their children to walk or cycle to school. The data shows that encouraging more people to swap short local car trips for a bike journey or a walking trip improves local air quality and boosts levels of physical activity - this too makes a contribution to our modal shift targets to get us to NetZero.

3.     Far-reaching reform to bus

The collapse of the business model of private bus operators required another tranche of emergency funding this year. The operation of the Bus Transition Fund marked the beginning of a new way of planning and commissioning buses in Wales.

Our bus system is fundamentally flawed and we are seeing evidence of profound market failure. Buses are a public service but the commercial model has failed to serve very many communities, and that is why we are introducing the most far-reaching bus reform legislation in the UK.

This year has seen significant strides in agreeing the detail of a new Bus Bill which will be introduced into the Senedd in 2024, and just as importantly the new delivery arrangements which will underpin bus Franchising.

The reduced ‘farebox’ from the slow return of passengers, and the return to austerity public funding, forced operators to determine which routes could run without subsidy on a commercial basis, and made commissioners of services focus on identifying a network of services to prioritise for limited funding. This process identified significant duplication and inefficiencies in the current funding model and in the process established a new way of working at a regional level between Councils, the Welsh Government, TfW and bus operators. Significantly these ‘regional scrums’ also aligned planning of school transport contracts with provision of service buses. This helps lay the ground for bringing school buses into the new franchise network.

This year has seen significant progress in creating working arrangements in advance of the legislation for joint-decision making and planning the commissioning of services. This builds the foundations for franchising, and helps create the single ‘guiding mind’ set out in the white paper that will bring key decision makers together to design and deliver public transport services as effectively as they can.

There are significant short-term challenges to bus services in what Gramsci called the ‘interregnum’ where ‘the old is dying and the new cannot be born’. It is fair to point out that we are encouraging people to switch to sustainable transport options at a time when bus services are retracting, active travel infrastructure is incomplete and train performance has been woeful. Covid and austerity have added to our short-term challenges here significantly. But to get to where we need to be in the medium-term we need to make structural and cultural changes now, and that will take time to work through. That is what securing the wellbeing of Future Generations is surely about.

4.     A new remit for TfW

The vision of an integrated transport system (One network, one timetable, one ticket) which underpins the bus reforms demands joined up systems to deliver it. They don’t currently exist and so it is impossible to properly align the rail and bus timetables. That will change.

Transport for Wales was set up to procure a rail franchise and we have increasingly drawn it into bus provision and supporting the delivery of active travel schemes. This year TfW was given a clear new remit to transform into a truly multi-modal organisation that is outcome focussed and totally mode agnostic. This is also reflected in TfW’s revised Articles of Association and Management Framework.

Their remit letter tasks them to ‘Maximise modal shift to sustainable transport modes to support our Net Zero Wales transport obligations and targets’ of 45% of journeys by sustainable modes by 2040 (as set out in Llwybr Newydd Wales Transport Strategy).

I set out the concept of Transport for Wales 2.0 in a speech to a major rail conference in April:

‘I see Transport for Wales as a behaviour change organisation, and rail is just one way that is to be achieved. It needs to sit alongside bus, active travel and private transport.

Lets stop thinking of the concept of ‘passengers’ and start thinking about people, their lives and their needs when we are designing and delivering transport services that will change behaviours.

A good rail offer is obviously an important part of getting people to use their cars less but very often it will be bus that is the right, and best value solution, to connect communities.

It is not just about infrastructure, it is about changing hearts and minds, and infrastructure is one way of achieving it’.

This is as much of a culture change challenge for TfW itself as it for citizens, and the new remit challenges the TfW board ‘to demonstrate leadership across all sustainable transport modes that encourages integration and innovation’.

5.     New plumbing

“You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.” former New York Governor Mario Cuomo famously observed. Shifting the direction of transport policy relies far more on the granular changes to delivery mechanisms than to declarations in a strategy. Two years ago Ken Skates and I published a transport strategy which set us on ‘a new path” with a set of stretching targets to decrease car dependency. That was the easy part, following that through with the policies that bring them about is hard, and reconfiguring the systems to make those intentions meaningful even harder.

Having set the direction you can’t assume that the civil service will simply ‘take it from here’.

Previous transport strategies have been characterised as saying all the right things in the narrative but the follow-up implementation plans are full of business-as-usual. It is not exciting or headline grabbing but getting deep into the ‘plumbing’ is critical to embedding change, and this year we have made some significant strides.

The issuing of detailed guidance to the groups of local authorities that now make up Corporate Joint Committees is a key step in following the high-level strategy in Llwybr Newydd into plans that are submitted for funding via the new Regional Transport Plans (RTPs).

The first step emphasised in the guidance is that RTPs should be ‘firmly focused on achieving modal shift’. It also stresses ‘We DO want you to use creative ways to engage people to achieve modal shift; We DO want you to include disincentives for car use as well as incentives for more sustainable travel; We DO want the Strategic Development Plans and the Regional Transport Plans to be developed together’. Aligning strategic regional planning for housing and land-use with regional transport planning is critical.

This will only be as good as the follow-up of course. It would be naive to think that some local authorities will not seek to shoe-horn long favoured projects into the new footwear - one Council has already tried to persuade me that a new by-pass is part of the ‘modal choice’ which they think is in keeping with the new Roads Policy (Spoiler alert, it is not). The Welsh Government needs to be firm on these points less our ‘new path’ goes the way of all the others.

The other big win this year that will determine the success of implementation is the broadening of the regional Metro teams that are within TfW into Regional Network Planning Teams. This is important for two reasons - it offers a helpful resource to hard-pressed local authorities to help turn their local transport priorities into actionable plans, and it ensures that TfW is working closely alongside the Corporate Joint Committees on a mutli-modal basis rather than adding every more schemes to a future rail pipeline for which there is no funding identified.

Getting the relationship right between TfW and Councils / CJCs is of critical importance. It is the cornerstone of the new bus architecture that TfW plays its role as a ‘guiding mind’ - offering support, capacity and expertise to the local authorities and the Welsh Government to make franchising work.

It will only work if TfW is seen as a proper delivery partner not as a potential poacher of local government responsibilities. This will rely on strong relationships, which is why I have given the WLGA a formal place on the board of TfW as an official observer (and the same for WG); and why James Price (TFW CEO), Cllr Andrew Morgan (WLGA Transport Lead) and I meet on a regular six-weekly basis to discuss and agree future plans on an open basis.

The appointment of Lee Robinson, who is well regarded on all sides, as TfW Executive Director for Regional Transport and Integration reporting directly to TfW CEO James Price is also an important part of making the ‘plumbing’ work. This is alongside a restructure of TfW senior management into thematic roles (away from mode-specific roles) and a comprehensive multi-modal remit for the organisation – ‘TfW 2.0’

There’s a lot more that’s been going on this year - including working up what modal shift looks like in practice in rural areas, as well as working through the well-made challenges made by the Cross-Party Group on Active Travel to our delivery arrangements (more on that soon). And it is worth noting that this is all being done alongside the continued delivery of the South Wales Metro Project - the most complex rail project in the UK today - and the rolling-out of a brand new fleet of trains.

These are just five themes which show that 2023 has been the most significant year for the development of transport policy in 25 years of devolution. It has been a team effort, and I am very grateful to the support everyone that is involved in rising to this huge challenge. I am especially grateful to Julie James and Mark Drakeford for their support in this shared endeavour. 


Anonymous said…
Sorry but your changes where not very well thought out you should have had a bus/rail network already in place before changes in road speeds etc.Not all people live in towns and cities and if you expect people to use more public transport it needs to be available for eg. The man on early morning shift at 5a.m and the nurse finishing shift at 12a.m.it just isn't available
Plus as an oap I rely on my car to visit medical facilities as well as friends and relatives,shopping and being able to socialise which is essential for mental health.This is Wales which is very wet and windy.
Anonymous said…
Your time in power is over, you can block all you want on social media btmut the people have made there choice. Enjoy retirement.
Griff Griffiths said…
You and your policies are ruining the Welsh economy, the default 20mph is an utter shambles, I have voted Labour all my adult life, but now at the age of 60 I know for sure that will never happen again.
Anonymous said…
You’re wasting 65 percent of OUR money on climate change & killing the economy in the process. You are truly deluded. There are towns in the works with more inhabitants than the whole of wales.
Lee Waters said…
We are not spending 65% of the budget on climate change (for a start health takes up a half!).

The ‘Climate Change’ budget in the WG refers to the whole department and not just actions to tackle climate change. The department covers all activity in housing (including tackling homelessness and building new homes for rent), all transport projects )including road building, maintenance, running the railway, as well as regeneration schemes, energy projects and others.
Anonymous said…
No chance mate. Best get looking for alternative employment.
Dave Wynn said…
Thank you very much for your hard work and commitment re decarbonising Wales as quickly as possible, particularly around transport. Cars are the most inefficient and dangerous mode of transport we have ever devised, and tempering their impact on our streets, our environment, and our lives / wellbeing is long overdue. I have read with great interest your plans for an integrated public transport network, and am already enjoying improvements to active travel facilities in my area. Long may this continue. You have my full support and thanks for all your endeavours in this regard.
Anonymous said…
Reading all these proposals strikes me as a self indulgent plan , without real considerations for the bigger picture !
This “net zero emissions” is a pie in the sky utopian dream as we have no control over what happens in the rest of the world and will never happen with the current options for energy, well not in our life time .
All you have done is turn the people of wales against the senedd as we believe you do not listen and put your own beliefs and gains before the country .
Mr Walters , sadly you and your party have failed miserably in your duty of care to the people of wales and if you still have one honourable bone left between you should all now bow out gracefully before the storm comes .

Vic said…
We the Welsh people are not going anywhere you waters have ruined Wales by your stupid attitude and wasting welsh people money you must resign as your not fit to be tfw you do not have a clue DO YOU NOW LEAVE WATERS WE DONT WANT THIS 20MPH NOW WE ARE WATCHING WHAT OUR SERVANTS DO SO DONT THINK THAT WE WILL GET USED TO IT BECAUSE WE WONT JUST LEAVE WE DONT WANT YOU WORKING FOR US ANYMORE THE NEXT ELECTION WILL PROVE THIS SO GO LOOK FOR ANOTHER JOB
Anonymous said…
When will the full analysis report of road speeds and air quality improvements be published, it was paid for by the public to improve life for the public yet you withhold the publishing of the full report including analytics for fear of the public asking relevant questions. You have continued to block people rather than answer their questions as have other Labour members
Neil Lewis said…
Proud to have progressive policies that align with the science. Wales can be proud to have both major parties working together to try and improve our lives whilst responding to the massive challenges ahead. The Government in Westminster are constantly undermining your policies through chronic underfunding. Particularly whilst with holding the Barnet consequential associated with HS2. Diolch.
owain bayliss said…
I have sent an email to you Lee regarding the implementation of the 20mph zones. All I had back was a generic reply that didn’t answer my questions.

You say “ The default speed limit on residential or busy pedestrian streets with street lights (so called ‘restricted roads’) switched to 20mph, but Councils have the power to keep sections at 30mph.”

Now the most obvious thing to have done was to have placed a. Default speed of 20mph around school, hospitals and housing estates and then councils ask for exemptions to reduce other 30mph zones to 20mph. This would have saved a fortune on signage changed and not confused the general public. The vast majority of the roads that are now 20mph are not suitable for that reduction and this is seen my the majority of public not sticking to 20mph including bus drivers and taxis.

You say that a “review” is coming, I can’t see what you can do now to change what has happened unless you change the default back to 30mph and as I have said change the default outside schools, hospitals and housing estates to 20mph.

You have made the public push back on this poor thought out policy and you don’t seem to be listening to what people are saying.

Very poor on yourself and the Welsh Government to put your heads in the sand and not listen to us.
Linda Foye said…
You say the NHS will save £92 million a year through your ill-thought out policies. Does this mean over £20miion has already been saved? Do you actually have any research or results to back this up? You steadfastly refuse to engage with the electorate, blocking anyone who doesn’t fall into line. You and your party were elected to serve us yet you are not listening to us and your policies have failed Wales in every respect. The three original contenders to take over as FM are, or have been, in charge of the NHS, education and finance. That hardly inspires confidence.
Lee Waters said…
Thanks for all the comments. I'll try and address them.

Firstly, I do not block everyone who criticises of challenges (as you can see from this) but I have started blocking people who just hurl insults rather than ask questions or engage in debate.

Owain, this was all considered by the expert taskforce that I set up to look at the practicalities of delivering the policy and they concluded that the approach you advocate would in fact be more costly and confusing. You can see their thinking here:


I don't agree the policy hasn't been thought out, in fact we spent 4 years doing just that. I think the issue is that the consultation with communities in advance on which roads to exclude was not good enough. There is considerable variation in the way Councils have exercised the discretion we told them they had as you can see here:


The review is the chance to look again at that.

Linda, I did include a link to the research that suggests an annual £92 m saving. this is not a WG figure, it has come from academics:


But it does stand to reason, slower speeds mean longer reaction times and when there is a collision the impact of the injury is less, that means fewer people turning up at A&E needing treatment, which means a reduced cost to the NHS. They conclude 't the value of prevention is nearly three times higher than the implementation costs'

Anonymous, the full plan for reporting on the monitoring is here:


Vic, I think your CapsLock button is stuck.

As for all the comments about resignation and time in power being over, that may well be. Politicians usually get criticised for breaking promises, I'm now being criticised for delivering a manifesto pledge made at the last election. It has twice been voted on by the Welsh Parliament on a cross-party basis and with majorities of 2/3. I fully appreciate it that lots of people don't like it. That was also true of the seatbelt law, the introduction of breathalysers and indeed the introduction of Belitia Beacons!

We have followed the evidence, listened to experts, co-designed with the people who have to implement the law and had the approach endorsed by the voters and the Senedd. As I've said all along it it a big culture change and it was never going to be perfect on Day One. We now need to listen to local feedback and make adjustments.
owain bayliss said…
Hi Lee thanks for a reply, however I would loved to have met your task force, this should have been put up for the voting public to decide. There are so many roads around Cardiff that do not warrant 20mph yet the reality is that they are. In the document you passed onto me to read it states that

It will not be appropriate to place a speed limit of 20mph on
all existing 30mph roads. On well-engineered routes that
are principal corridors for movement, where there is little
frontage development or community activity and where
pedestrians and cyclists do not need to mix with motor
vehicles it will often be appropriate to retain the existing
limit. Where lit, such routes need to be made exceptions
to the default limit of 20mph and a TRO will be required.
As with all speed limits, 30mph exceptions could be part
time if the local authority considers this to be appropriate.

This clearly hasn’t happened as why would so many road across wales suddenly be 20mph. With a review coming up soon it will be even more confusing for motorists to have changing speed limits where it was 30 then default 20 then realising the error and changing back to 30.

This is all time that is being wasted and time costs money, the sign changes cost money.

The default around schools, hospitals and housing estates would have meant so many signs being unchanged across all of Wales.

If you could please tell me how the current way is cheaper I would love to know that information.

Stick with it Lee and don't allow yourself to be moved to a new department in any reshuffle. We need continuity.

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