Exclusive: Welsh Govt ignored COVID impact in A465 reappraisal

04/01/2021
Rhodri Clark

The Welsh Government excluded the impacts of COVID-19 from the revised business case for dualling 11 miles of the A465 between Dowlais and Hirwaun, Highways can reveal.

The contract was awarded in November to a consortium which will finance, build and operate the road. The Government’s annual service payments will total £1.14bn, excluding VAT and inflation.

The Benefit-Cost Ratio (BCR) was updated before contract award and a Freedom of Information request has revealed that it excluded the impact of COVID.  

'The BCR has not specifically considered the impact of dealing with COVID-19 may have on future work and travel patterns in the medium and long term,' the updated business case said.

'Even if there were a permanent drop in traffic levels that would affect the BCR, the justification for the A465 dualling has never primarily focussed on addressing traffic volumes and congestion.'

On 13 September, the Government announced that in future 30% of the Welsh workforce should work from home or local community hubs.

Factoring this policy into the BCR could have significantly reduced the benefits, of which 73% are generated by attaching a monetary value to each minute of travel time saved over 60 years.

The scheme’s wider economic benefits rest partially on more people being able to commute by car to jobs within 30 minutes of home.

Asked whether the government’s policy was to encourage less or more car commuting, a government spokesman said: ‘The new Wales Transport Strategy (WTS) which is currently out for consultation sets out the future policy direction in relation to how people, goods and services will move around Wales. The A465 dualling is a road widening project to optimise use of the existing road network.’

During lockdown, car commuting was 8% higher in Rhondda Cynon Taf and Merthyr Tydfil than in Cardiff. A Welsh Government spokesman said this highlighted that home working was less of an option for Valleys residents than for Cardiff residents.

However, many Valleys residents normally commute by public transport but were warned not to during lockdown, with cars being the only realistic alternative for many whereas active travel was feasible in Cardiff.

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