Keeping Wales Moving? – Welsh Government review of trunk road management arrangements

07 November 2014

Article by Andrew Minnis, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Map from Welsh Government. Licensed under Crown Copyright

Map from Welsh Government. Licensed under Crown Copyright

The Minister for Economy, Science and Transport will be updating plenary on the on-going Welsh Government Review of Trunk Road Agents on Tuesday 11th November 2014.

This blog post provides some background information on management of the trunk road network and the review.

What is the Welsh trunk road network?

Trunk roads form a network of national strategic routes providing links to key centres and transport interchanges, the English road network and the rest of Europe.

The map above shows the Welsh trunk road network, including the M4 motorway, and can also be accessed on the Welsh Government website here. Although Motorways are strictly “special roads”, with restrictions on the drivers and vehicles which can use them, they are managed in the same way as trunk roads in Wales.

How is the network managed now?

The Welsh Ministers are the “highway authority” for the network, meaning that they are directly responsible for its operation, maintenance and improvement (local councils fulfil the same role for local roads). The Welsh Ministers have a statutory duty to maintain the network.

Day to day operation, maintenance and improvement is currently undertaken by two public sector agents:

  • North and Mid Wales Trunk Road Agent: is responsible for trunk roads in all of the north Wales council areas, as well as those in the Powys and Ceredigion council areas. Staff are employed by Gwynedd Council.
  • South Wales Trunk Road Agent: is responsible for the network in the remaining council areas. Staff are employed by Neath Port Talbot Council.

The current structure has evolved over the last decade. Following an earlier review the number of agents reduced from 8 to 3 in 2005/06, comprising agents for north, mid and south Wales. Following a further review these were replaced by the current structure in April 2012.

The funding, use and condition of the network

The Welsh trunk road network has an asset value of around £13.5 billion. The most recent Welsh Government statistical bulletin on road lengths and conditions was published in December 2013. This shows that the percentage of the network classed as requiring “close monitoring of structural condition” increased between 2011 and 2012:

In 2012, 11.2 per cent of the motorway network and 12.8 per cent of the trunk road network required close monitoring of structural condition compared with 10.0 per cent and 9.5 per cent respectively in 2011.

Note: Close monitoring is required when the residual life of a section of road has fallen below zero (i.e. a ‘negative residual life’).

At the same time demand is increasing. The Welsh Government’s August 2014 statistical bulletin on road traffic shows that traffic on Welsh the trunk road and motorway network has increased above the pre-recession peak of 10.08 billion vehicle kilometres in 2008 to 10.14 billion km in 2013. The total had fallen to 9.99 billion km in 2009 and 9.8 billion km in each of the years between 2010 and 2012.

A total of £114 million was available for motorway and trunk road network operations in the 2013-14 Welsh Government budget, made up of around £66 million of revenue and £49 million of capital funding. This increased by around £18m to about £133 million in 2014-15, comprising about £61 million revenue and £71 million capital.

The draft budget for 2015-16 shows an overall reduction in the budget to about £120 million, with a revenue reduction of £3.6m and capital down by £8.9 million.

The current review

The Minister published a written statement on arrangements for the management of motorways and trunk roads in Wales in June 2014. The Minister said:

A recent review of the current operational arrangements has shown that there is merit in considering further changes to the management and delivery structures, so as to obtain more improvements in service delivery and Value for Money.

The continuing budget pressures and the need for ever increasing levels of service standards to ensure minimal delays to business and the public using the roads network means change is now needed. I have therefore decided to bring the management of the road network much closer to the Welsh Government.

I am currently considering a number of delivery options for achieving this quickly.

I will provide a further update on this matter, following completion of the more detailed analysis in the autumn. I intend to introduce changes in 2015.