A decision to scrap a multi-million pound bypass project has been met with fury by community leaders in Gwynedd.
There was confirmation on Monday (Nov 1) that the Welsh Government was withdrawing its support for the planned 1.5km road bypassing the village of Llanbedr in Meirionnydd.
With ministers basing the decision on the need to slash carbon emissions – heightened by the COP UN climate change conference in Glasgow – the move has been described by the local councillor as “devastating” and that the community had been “led up the garden path.”
Said to have been over 50 years in the making, the £14m project was designed to improve access to Llanbedr Airfield with long-running concerns over the volume of traffic heading towards Mochras (Shell Island) via the A496 which runs through the village.
Also known as Snowdonia Aerospace Centre, the site is currently used for testing and developing unmanned drone aircraft for civilian use, and is a cornerstone of economic revival efforts in the area.
Partially funded by Welsh Government and EU cash, with the status of the latter being unclear, the bypass project was awarded planning permission for the second time in March 2020.
This was after the Snowdonia National Park’s initial approval saw an unhappy landowner submit an application for a judicial review on the basis of its impact on a nearby Special Area of Conservation.
But while it was hoped that work would be finished by the spring of 2023, its future was once again thrown up in the air after June’s Welsh Government decision to halt all new road building schemes while a review is carried out
With the reduction of carbon emissions in mind, the pause also affected several other projects in the region including the proposed Deeside “Red Route” and a proposed new Menai crossing.
But Monday’s announcement by the Deputy Climate Change Minister means that the plans have been thrown into turmoil.
Lee Waters MS confirmed in a written statement, “The climate emergency makes it imperative that we avoid investment that increases carbon emissions, especially in the next 15 years when most cars on the road will still be petrol and diesel vehicles.
“The Llanbedr Access Road scheme has been taken forward by Gwynedd Council with funding from Welsh Government. As the scheme is at an advanced stage of preparation the panel chair was asked to ‘fast-track’ its review of the Llanbedr scheme.”
According to Gwynedd Council, local traffic problems are currently accentuated by the narrowness of the listed bridge over the river Artro in the centre of the village, street parking and the number of junctions on to the A496 leading into Llanbedr.
The bypass, it was said, would reduce traffic through Llanbedr by 90%.
But with the panel of transport and climate experts tasked with considering if enough notice had been given to solutions other than using private vehicles and if it would lead to increased CO2 emissions, contrary to decarbonisation targets, they found that the plans did not meet the criteria.
“I have accepted the chair’s recommendations and Welsh Government will not support any further work on the current Llanbedr Access Road scheme,” added Mr Waters.
“However, I am committed to providing funding for the development and implementation of an alternative package of measures to address the negative impact of traffic in Llanbedr and in other villages on the A496, whilst also encouraging modal shift and reducing CO2 emissions.
“The package can also consider access requirements to the airfield to support
He concluded that officials will now work with Gwynedd Council and Transport for Wales to develop alternative plans, with funding available via the Local Transport Fund.
The move has prompted a fierce response from both the leader of Gwynedd Council and the local councillor for Llanbedr, however.
Cllr Annwen Hughes, who represents the village, said she was “shocked” and felt that the community had been “led up the garden path by the Welsh Government.”
She added, “Our hopes had been raised that Llanbedr by-pass would be delivered, but today those hopes have been dashed It is a bitter blow.
“Where does this now leave our community? Where does this leave our economy? What affect will this have on the Welsh Government’s own Llanbedr Airfield site, and the potential there to create jobs for local people?
“This feels like a bitter betrayal from our own Government in Cardiff. Their concerns regarding the climate should also relate to concerns about our community’s health, well-being and future prospects.
“We will continue to oppose this decision and push Ministers to re-look at this issue.”
The leader of Gwynedd Council, Dyfrig Siencyn, said he was “furious” at the decision, which he described as a “crushing blow.”
“The report shows a complete lack of understanding of a rural situation in terms of road usage or the desperate need for jobs of high quality in one of the areas with the lowest household incomes.
“It is clear that once again rural areas can be sacrificed on the alter of climate change where the real problem and the answers lie in our urban areas.
“This is a crushing blow to our hopes and aspirations for the people of Meirionnydd. Despite fine words by Ministers who represent urban areas, they have no understanding and no empathy with the problems facing our rural communities and clearly have no desire to improve the lives of people who live and work here.
“The potential increase in Carbon emissions from the new road scheme fade into insignificance when compared to the emissions and pollution suffered by the residents of Llanbedr over the summer months, when hundreds of vehicles are at a standstill in the village.
“Moreover it seems that rural areas are now to be consigned into economic deserts and empty communities for the pleasure of those who travel here regardless of their Carbon emissions.
“We are not to have an infrastructure fit for the 21st century and we must be satisfied with a peasant subsistence whilst those in our cities and urban areas can benefit from an efficient public transport system, and ready access to jobs and public services.
“I invite the authors of this report to come and live in Meirionnydd so that they can experience the reality of life here.
“They should come and meet us to explain how they reached their flawed conclusions. I despair that we are once more to suffer from a short sighted urban attitude which has scant regard for the well being of rural communities.
“I will continue to fight on in the face of this decision and will continue to press the case with Ministers for a substantial change in attitude.”
Dwyfor Meirionnydd MS, Mabon ap Gwynfor, described the decision as a “kick in the teeth.”
He added, “It’s clear that the report’s author has no understanding of life in rural Wales.
“If the Welsh Labour Government were genuinely concerned about the climate emergency, they would fund essential public services and transport for the people of Llanbedr and the surrounding communities.
“I would urge the Welsh government to go a step further and shut the M4 Motorway in the Minister’s own region, and force the hundreds of thousands who live in those urban areas to use public transport.”
His Westminster counterpart, Liz Saville Roberts MP, concluded, “At the height of the summer, with the combination of visitor traffic and heavy goods vehicles, the village often comes to a standstill.
“The volume of traffic driving through Llanbedr or standing idle with engines running is detrimental to the health and wellbeing of residents.
“The lack of decent access to Welsh Government-owned Llanbedr Airfield means that our own government is acting to prevent improvements which would boost the economy of rural north west Wales.
“I urge the Welsh government to immediately reconsider this decision.”