Keeping Wales Moving: Sustain Wales Summit 2019

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The recent Sustain Wales Summit was both dynamic and solemn in equal measure. Changes to South Wales’ infrastructure is underway, driven by the need to counter the consequences of a contemporary Wales that relies far too heavily on privately owned, fossil fuelled cars. As a result, Sustain Wales’ Summit: Sustainable Transport and Mobility - Putting the Citizen at the Heart of Urban Travel last week revolved around a simple core message: our relationship with the car must change.

 Building upon the Future Generations Act, the Urban Mobility Partnership promotes a multi-modal, integrated transport system that will improve our health, environment and economy by changing the way we travel. The multibillion-pound initiative hopes to liberate isolated urban communities while establishing a travel infrastructure that is as inclusive and accessible as it is kind to our planet.

 Automotive transport was explored at length, but the main messages were that diesel taxis account for a high proportion of welsh air pollution, and that one of the most common causes of death in young children were road traffic accidents (this is worse in more deprived areas of the community).

Client Earth’s Kate Nield, AM Leigh Waters, Clean Air Cardiff’s Jason Bale and Public Health Wales’ Dr Tom Porter all brought new angles and fresh insight to the topic, covering everything from the effect of micro-particulates on the body, to the international environmental law’s that are not being up-held across Wales and the UK as a whole. This wealth of specialist knowledge encouraged interdisciplinary dialogue and new perspectives on the current plans for bike shares, buses, trams and the much-anticipated metro. But how well established are these plans? 

Leigh Waters AM, Minister for Transport and Economy emphasised the new found political urgency that the ‘climate emergency’ has inspired. Time to act was the generally accepted message, but some members of the audience wondered if this is nothing more than convincing rhetoric in light of a global media outcry? In response, Waters took time during his turn on stage to express his frustration with previous consultations, saying that the existing sustainable transport work that had been done was expedient. However, Waters emphasised the need for a much greater depth of insight and much greater level of creativity within future consultations and design processes, perhaps indicating things are not as concrete as some of the Summit’s rhetoric suggests.

 Through the Summit, it was clear to see that South Wales is working hard across the transport industry to establish a more connected and environmentally friendly community. But are the plans in place bold enough? With an environmentally conscious Mark Drakeford at the head of Welsh Government and no sign of an M4 Relief Road, South Walian people need action fast. Talk of retro-fitted busses and the rejuvenation of disused industrial railway lines are an achievable start, but is it enough to spark real change in the Welsh Capital and beyond?