How should the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales work?

14 March 2017

Article by Gareth Thomas, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg | View this post in Welsh

On 15 March the Assembly will debate the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee’s report on the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales (NICfW).  The Committee found much to agree with when scrutinising the Welsh Government’s proposals, but made 10 recommendations to help ensure that Wales’s current and future infrastructure needs are met.

What is the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales, and why did the Committee choose to look at it?

Construction of Pont y Werin, Cardiff

Image from Flickr by Ben Salter. Licensed under Creative Commons.

The compact between Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru in May 2016 included a commitment to establish a National Infrastructure Commission in Wales.  The Welsh Government’s proposals for the NICfW are that it will be a non-statutory body that provides independent and expert technical and strategic advice to the Welsh Government on Wales’ long-term infrastructure needs over a 5-30 year period.  This will involve making regular reports to the Welsh Government on economic and environmental infrastructure.  Decision making and infrastructure policy will remain the responsibility of the Welsh Government.

The Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure has said that his ambitions for the NICfW are to depoliticise contentious infrastructure decisions, and to speed up delivery of key projects.  While in October 2016 the Cabinet Secretary said that he would aim to set the NICfW up by summer 2017, in a written statement on 8 March he said that he now aims for it to be established by the end of 2017.

Scrutiny of the plans to establish NICfW was a key priority of a number of stakeholders who responded to the Committee’s consultation on its priorities held last summer.  Some of the main issues raised by stakeholders included the need for a long-term vision for infrastructure, the role and remit of the NICfW, how it will impact on key projects, learning from international best practice and how it can improve current arrangements for delivering infrastructure.

How did the Committee’s work add to the Welsh Government’s proposals?

The Welsh Government accepted 6 of the Committee’s recommendations, accepted 3 in principle and rejected 1 recommendation.  So the Committee has influenced the model for the NICfW in the following ways:

  • The preferred candidate for Chair of the NICfW will be scrutinised by an Assembly Committee in a pre-appointment hearing, as was recently done by the Finance Committee for the preferred Chair of the Welsh Revenue Authority.
  • The NICfW will produce a ‘State of the Nation’ report on future Welsh infrastructure needs every three years to detach its work from the political cycle, and will produce an annual report focussing on governance, past and upcoming work. The Welsh Government will respond to all recommendations within 6 months.
  • Its annual remit letter will provide information on how much the Welsh Government expects to be able to spend on infrastructure funding over the longest possible timescale, to give important context to its recommendations.
  • The remit letter will also encourage NICfW to build strong relationships with the UK National Infrastructure Commission and Scottish Futures Trust to maximise effectiveness.
  • Appointments to the NICfW will need to take account of the diversity of communities across Wales, and engagement at regional levels will be set out in its terms of reference.
  • The Welsh Government will explore mechanisms such as the Development Bank to focus on how more private funding can be used to support infrastructure developments.

And what’s still up for debate?

One of the Committee’s key recommendations was that, following its initial establishment, legislation would follow to make the NICfW a statutory body. 

This was influenced by evidence from federal and state level infrastructure advisory bodies in Australia which told the Committee that their status as an authoritative voice on infrastructure had been enhanced by their independent statutory status, and that the benefits of this approach would apply more widely than Australia.

The Chief Executive of the UK National Infrastructure Commission told the Committee that although being a non-statutory body had allowed it to be established more     quickly, there was also a downside since stakeholders perceive it to be less permanent.

The Welsh Government rejected this recommendation, as it does not consider that the role or remit of the NICfW would be enhanced by being on a statutory footing.  However it will consider this as part of a formal review taking place before the end of the Fifth Assembly.

There were also three recommendations which the Welsh Government accepted in principle.  The Committee recommended that the remit of NICfW be extended to include supply of land for strategically significant housing developments and related supporting infrastructure.  While the initial remit of the NICfW will remain as economic and environmental infrastructure, this will be reviewed by the end of the Fifth Assembly.

The Committee also wanted NICfW to be located outside Cardiff, and to share accommodation with another public body to lower costs.  The Welsh Government has said it will consider this, given the need for independence from a range of bodies NICfW will need to work with.

Finally, the Committee considered that NICfW should be considered a public body under the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 to promote collaboration, engagement with the public and independence.  The Welsh Government will ensure that its terms of reference will make sure that NICfW is required to keep to the principles and goals of the Act.  However it will not seek to amend the Act at present.

The National Development Framework for Wales: what is it and when is it due?

24 February 2017

Article by Elfyn Henderson, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg | View this post in Welsh

Photograph of the Britannia Bridge across the Menai strait

The approach to strategic land use planning in Wales is changing. The Planning (Wales) Act 2015 introduces two new levels of development plan, which will sit above the existing local development plans (LDPs):

  • A National Development Framework (NDF) covering the whole of Wales. The NDF will set out the Welsh Government’s policies on development and land use in a spatial context, and replace the Wales Spatial Plan; and
  • Strategic Development Plans (SDPs) – these are regional plans that will sit between the NDF and LDPs in certain parts of Wales, and will deal with issues that cut across a number of local planning authority areas (but are not of national significance).

This post focuses on the NDF; further reading on SDPs and LDPs can be found in our local planning policy briefing (PDF 1MB) and in the Welsh Government’s Development Plan Prospectus.

The National Development Framework

The NDF will set out a 20 year land use framework and be reviewed at least every five years. Unlike the Wales Spatial Plan, the NDF will have development plan status, meaning that all SDPs and LDPs must be in conformity with it. The Welsh Government summarises the purpose of the NDF as follows;

  • sets out where nationally important growth and infrastructure is needed and how the planning system can deliver it;
  • provides direction for SDPs and LDPs;
  • supports the determination of applications under the Developments of National Significance (DNS) regime. Further reading on DNS can be found in our DNS briefing (PDF 498KB);
  • sits alongside Planning Policy Wales, which sets out the Welsh Government’s national planning policies and will continue to provide the context for land use planning; and
  • supports national economic, transport, environmental, housing, energy and cultural strategies and ensure they can be delivered through the planning system.

The Planning (Wales) Act 2015 requires the draft NDF to be considered by the National Assembly before the final NDF is published.

The Assembly will have 60 days (excluding recess) to consider the draft NDF. The Welsh Government must take account of any resolution or recommendations made by the Assembly, or any of its committees, in deciding whether or not the draft NDF should be amended.

The Welsh Government must publish a statement alongside the final NDF outlining how it has had regard to the Assembly’s resolutions or recommendations.

The current timetable (below) shows the draft NDF being considered by the Assembly in October – December 2019. The final NDF is due to be published in March 2020.

Call for evidence and projects

The Welsh Government is currently undertaking a call for evidence and projects (7 December 2016 to 7 March 2017) to help inform the development of the NDF.

The consultation is asking for national level evidence and projects that will help Wales meet its various national objectives. It gives the following as examples that could be relevant to the NDF:

  • all-Wales studies looking at the potential for renewable energy generation, connectivity issues between different parts of Wales, environmental issues covering multiple regions; and
  • issues which relate to a geographically smaller area but which are of national significance, such as power stations or nationally important habitats.

Evidence and projects submitted will be considered in the context of the development planning system and against the seven Well-being goals, as set out in the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015.

The consultation document says the Welsh Government will publish details of the evidence and projects that are submitted, and also publish a summary of its assessment of them. However, no timescale is given for when this is intended to be done.

Statement of Public Participation

The Planning (Wales) Act 2015 requires the Welsh Government to publish a Statement of Public Participation setting out how it will consult with the public during the development of the NDF. This document was published in November 2016 following consultation in early 2016.

The Statement of Public Participation shows there will be two further 12 week stages of public consultation, prior to the draft NDF being considered by the Assembly.

The full NDF timetable is as follows:

ndf-table

A change of direction of the Welsh Government’s youth concessionary bus travel scheme?

13 February 2017

Article by Andrew Minnis, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg | View this post in Welsh

flikr_micolo_j

Image from Flickr by Micolo J. Licensed under Creative Commons

Media reports have suggested that the Welsh Government’s mytravelpass scheme, which offers discounts on Welsh bus travel for 18-16 year olds, is soon to be withdrawn. However, recent statements from the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure indicate that it may not have reached the end of the road just yet.

This blog post explains the background to the scheme and how it operates, along with an update on the most recent statements from the Cabinet Secretary.

Why was the scheme introduced?

In autumn 2014 the Welsh Government reached an agreement with the Liberal Democrats in the Assembly to support the Government’s draft budget. One aspect of the agreement was the introduction of a youth concessionary fares scheme.

Mytravelpass was subsequently launched in September 2015 on an 18 month pilot basis with funding of £15m.

The current pilot ends on 31 March 2017.

How does the scheme currently work?

Mytravelpass offers young people at least a one third discount on equivalent adult bus fares, although some operators may offer additional discounts. This includes local bus services which operate wholly in Wales or where the trip originates or terminates in Wales. The TrawsCymru long distance bus service is also included.

To be eligible for the pass, applicants must:

  • be aged 16 to 18 inclusive; and
  • have their primary residence in Wales (including those studying in Wales, provided they reside here).

The application process is handled by Traveline Cymru, the public transport information service funded by the Welsh Government. Users are issued with a photographic mytravelpass card which they must show when buying their ticket.

Details of how to apply are available on the mytravelpass website. Applications can be made online, by post or over the phone. During the pilot phase, the pass has been provided at no cost to the user, although applicants must provide a passport-sized photo to be included for ID purposes.  No proof of age or address is required with the application, but the details may be verified by third parties on behalf of the Welsh Government.

The mytravelpass website includes frequently asked questions with further information.

So what’s happening to the scheme now?

Uptake of the pass has been low. Despite a total market estimated at about 110,000 young people, by mid-January 2017 the total number of passes issued since the scheme’s launch was around 8,300.

On 18 October 2016, during questions following his Plenary statement on the future of bus services in Wales, the Cabinet Secretary acknowledged the limited uptake of the scheme.  He said “every opportunity—and I think any opportunity—that we get to flag up the existence of the pass we should take”. He also highlighted the role of the bus sector itself in marketing “concessionary travel opportunities”.

Three months later in January 2017 media reports suggested the scheme was being withdrawn at the end of the pilot period.  Welsh Government sources were quoted saying that the decision was based on analysis indicating that pass holders were not using the pass to travel outside their local area.

However, responding to a question in Plenary on 24 January 2017 the Cabinet Secretary said work was underway on a “legacy scheme”:

I remain very keen that there should be a legacy scheme after the current mytravelpass ends on 31 March. My officials have had encouraging discussions with representatives of local authorities and with the confederation of bus operators. I’m optimistic that I will be able to confirm the details of the successor programme very soon.

….this was a pilot scheme, and therefore something that we can learn from. And we have learnt from it. The fact of the matter is that uptake was not as high as we would’ve wished, which is why I’m very keen for the successor programme to reach more young people across Wales. I believe it’s something in the region of 10,000 young people who took advantage of the mytravelpass scheme; I would wish to see that number grow far more with the scheme that will emerge, which I’m hoping to announce within the coming weeks.

Young people in Wales and bus operators alike will await the Cabinet Secretary’s announcement with interest.

Will rail fare and ticketing pilots finally give passengers a break?

09 February 2017

Article by Andrew Minnis, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg | View this post in Welsh

cc_train

Image from Flickr Elliot Brown. Licensed under Creative Commons

On 1 February the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), a rail industry body which brings together all British passenger and freight operators, along with Network Rail and HS2, announced a series of rail fare pilots and other improvements. The RDG suggests that these have the potential to “guarantee customers simpler fares and the best possible deal every time they travel”.

This follows the joint publication of an action plan for information on rail fares and ticketing in December 2016    by the Department for Transport, RDG, Which? and Transport Focus (the independent transport user watchdog).

Fares and ticketing issues are a longstanding headache for rail passengers across Britain. Although the pilots themselves may not affect Wales directly, if successful these pilots are likely to lead to future changes across the network as rail franchises are renewed. Improvements to ticket machines and websites are also expected during 2017 which may bring more immediate benefits.

So what’s the problem?

The Secretary of State for Transport has a statutory duty under the Railways Act 1993 to make sure rail fares are reasonable, to protect through ticketing and promote the use of services provided by more than one operator.  This is achieved through “fares regulation” via franchise agreements, and “ticketing regulation” through industrywide agreements enforced by the industry regulator, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), as a condition of operating licences.

You can find more detail on these arrangements in annex A of the DfT’s 2012 Rail Fares and Ticketing Review: Initial consultation (PDF 695 KB).

The RDG explains how the planned trials will address the effects of these regulations:

The trials will be designed to establish the changes needed to regulation and processes so that train companies can offer customers simpler, easy to use fares. Decades-old government rules covering rail fares, originally intended to protect customers but introduced before the internet and online booking, have prevented train companies from being more flexible in offering tickets that customers want.

The complexity of rail fares and tickets has been causing problems for years. In June 2012 the ORR published fares and ticketing – information and complexity (PDF 1.31 MB). Its findings included the fact that more than half of passengers surveyed believed getting the best value ticket was “a bit of a lottery”, 45% thought the system too difficult to understand, while 41% reported buying tickets only to find later that they could have made the same journey at lower cost.  Nearly three-quarters of all those interviewed were not confident on what ‘off-peak’ times were.

Similarly, qualitative research on ticket vending machine (TVM) usability (PDF 1.47 MB), published by Transport Focus in 2010, found that while the large majority (72%) of passengers “were satisfied with ticket-buying facilities at stations”, passengers continued to experience problems.  These included poor screen layout, confusing and complex screen sequencing, and confusion over ticket validity and restrictions so that passengers are unclear about which options offered them best value ticket.

In October 2016 the House of Commons Transport Select Committee published the future of rail: improving the rail passenger experience, the latest in a series of reports considering fares and ticketing dating back a decade. The report described passengers’ frustrations:

Particular bugbears include use of ambiguous terms such as “London Terminals” and “Any Permitted” in relation to destinations and routes; “split-ticketing”, by which cross-country journeys can often be made more cheaply by purchasing a series of tickets between intermediate stations on the journey; and ticket vending machines that do not always offer the full range of ticketing information or the cheapest available fares.

Successive UK Governments have promised to simplify rail fares. Labour’s July 2007 White Paper delivering a sustainable railway (PDF 2.68 MB) promised to “make it easier for passengers to decide which fare is the right one for the journey, to get a sense of price, and to work out whether or not there is a cheaper option available”.  The last UK Government undertook a fares and ticketing review which published its “next steps” (PDF 0.97 MB) in October 2013.

So what’s happening now?

Three pilots addressing a range of issues have been announced:

  • Split ticketing: the RDG says that “best-priced through fares” will be tested with CrossCountry Trains “who are currently obliged by regulations to price through tickets for very long connecting journeys even where customers can beat that price by combining different types of ticket”. Details of the specific routes included in the trial are being finalised and will be published soon;
  • Single-leg pricing: will be tested on London-Glasgow and London-Edinburgh routes. At present many single fares on these routes cost much more than 50% of a return ticket price. The RDG says the pilot will test single leg pricing “so that customers would always know the cheapest fare for their chosen journey, out and back”; and
  • Routing changes: the London-Sheffield route will be “overhauled to reflect what is actually on offer”, where currently fares which are obviously unsuitable must still be offered creating confusion and offering poor value. The RDG says:

Regulations [on this route] date back to when the direct service was much less frequent and journeys often needed a change of train via a longer route. This means that tickets are required to be available which are not in step with actual options available now.

Trade magazine Passenger Transport recently provided an example of the issues to be addressed by the London-Sheffield pilot in an article on the trials. It pointed out that while Sheffield currently has a direct service from St Pancras station, a service from Kings Cross, changing at Doncaster, can offer an alternative. Yet despite taking longer and requiring a change, fares regulation means the King Cross route is more expensive.

In addition to the three trials, the RDG highlights measures set out in the joint action plan to make TVMs and ticket websites more user friendly by giving “customers better information and [making] it simpler to find the right ticket at the right price”. The action plan explains that changes will include clear ticket names and definitions, an on-line look-up tool to explain restrictions, and options for finding the cheapest fare.

And what happens next?

The three trials will start in May 2017, with a range of improvements to TVMs and websites beginning in spring 2017 and rolled out during the year. A working group will review progress against these actions monthly, with an interim report published in the ORRs July 2017 Annual Consumer Report and a final report in December 2017.

No doubt rail passengers will be hoping for big improvements following the pilots.  After so much discussion over so many years, passengers and the industry alike will be hoping the action plan will make for a happy new year for travellers in 2018.

Proposed toll reductions for the Severn Crossings

20 January 2017

Article by Sean Evans, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

View this post in Welsh | Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg

severn

Image from Flickr by Ashley Coates. Licensed under Creative Commons.

On 13 January 2017, the UK Department for Transport (DfT) and the Wales Office launched a consultation on proposals to reduce toll prices on the Severn Crossings. The consultation is seeking views on proposals to introduce reduced tolls, regulatory changes, reduced off-peak charges and free-flow charging before the Severn Crossings revert to public ownership sometime in late 2017 or early 2018.

What’s behind these proposals?

A concession agreement was awarded to Severn River Crossing PLC (SRC) in 1990 which commenced in April 1992 and operates subject to the provisions of the Severn Bridges Act 1992. The agreement authorises the collection of tolls by SRC from both Crossings until a “defined amount of revenue” (currently set at £1,029 billion in July 1989 prices) is generated or for a maximum of 30 years (whichever comes sooner). The UK Government has indicated that it expects the defined amount of revenue to be reached in late 2017 or early 2018, at which point the bridges will revert back to public (UK Government) ownership.

What’s being proposed?

Rather than abolish tolling at the end of the concession agreement, the UK Government intends to “abolish the higher price toll category for vans and small buses, and halve the tolls for all vehicles”, a move it suggests will be a “significant step” that will “make a positive difference to commuters, travellers, and to small business owners.”

The consultation proposals (PDF 559KB) include replacing the current toll of £6.70, for cars and other category 1 vehicles, with a charge of £3.00 as well applying this reduced category 1 charge to small buses and vans currently within category 2 and subject to a toll of £13.40. The toll for large vehicles under category 3 is proposed to be reduced from £20.00 to £10.00.

The proposed changes are set out in the following table:

tollprices

The payment currently required to use the Crossings is a toll which increases annually in line with inflation. The UK Government is proposing to replace this by introducing a Charging Order under the Transport Act 2000 which will “change the legal status of the payment…from a toll to a road user charge”. It suggests that this change of status will enable it to “reduce the amount users pay more easily.” During discussions in Plenary on 17 January 2017, Assembly Members expressed concerns over proposals for road user charging and its legal basis. The Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure, Ken States, stated that it is a “very complicated and complex area of legal work” and that the Welsh Government supports abolition of the toll on an economic basis alone.

What are the predicted impacts of the proposals on traffic?

Traffic forecasts commissioned by the DfT and described in the consultation suggest that reducing tolls will increase the amount of traffic using the Crossings up to 17% by 2028.

In response to this, the UK Government is considering measures to reduce the time it takes for tolls to be collected and “ways to manage this effect, including …options for free-flow tolling and day-time only tolling”. Additional considerations include rounding the toll prices down to whole numbers of pounds and continuation of the Severn TAG system at around a 50% price reduction.

The consultation also highlights the UK Governments concerns around the impact of increased traffic congestion in Bristol and along the M4 in Wales but suggests that “reducing the tolls by 50% would allow us to assess the impact… of increased traffic flows.” In Plenary on 17 January 2017, the Cabinet Secretary for the Economy and Infrastructure commented on concerns around modelled traffic impacts noting that “there is a need to ensure that the modelling for traffic flows is accurate” and that his views on the modelling undertaken and wider community impacts will be factored into his consultation response.

What is the UK Government proposing to use Crossing revenue for?

In a letter to Assembly Members and Members of Parliament, the Minister of State for Transport, John Hayes MP, and Secretary of State for Wales, Alun Cairns MP, stated that charges collected under the proposals will not be used for “any purpose other than to support their [the Crossings] operation and maintenance, and to repay the debt incurred by the UK taxpayer to fix latent defects on the Crossings”. The letter contained a further assurance that “the Government will monitor toll prices closely with a view to further reductions if possible in the future.” These sentiments are reiterated in the consultation document which states that toll revenues “will be kept under review to see if they can be reduced further.”

What about talk of abolishing the tolls?

There has been support for abolishing the tolls completely when the Crossings revert to public ownership. A recent Motion, tabled by Mark Reckless AM proposing that the Assembly supports the abolition of tolls, was debated in the Assembly on 16 November 2016 and subsequently agreed as amended with 45 votes for, 0 against and 1 abstention.

The UK Government argues that abolishing the tolls would put the future of the Crossings at risk with estimated annual maintenance and operational costs of around £15 million. However, the proposal to continue tolling has attracted criticism from those seeking the abolition of the tolls who suggest that their continuation represents a tax on Wales that would not be permitted under existing legislation.

The Welsh Government commissioned Arup to conduct research into the impact of the Severn tolls on the Welsh economy. Arup’s report (PDF 3.48MB) (2013), states that economic modelling suggests that removing the tolls could boost the economy of south Wales through increased annual Gross Value Added (GVA) in the order of 0.48% or around £107m. Whilst the report noted that caution should be applied to the precise magnitude of GVA gains, it also indicated that the indirect effects are such that the “overall impact of the toll [suppressed GVA potential] exceeds the direct cost of the toll [maintenance and operational costs]”. However the UK Government suggest that, whilst the “prospect of removing the tolls and funding the operation and maintenance…..through the resultant increases in revenue from general taxation is an attractive theory”, there is “no guarantee that the Government would recoup the equivalent amount of lost toll revenue through general taxation.”

The UK Government also outlines a need to recover costs of £63 million it has incurred during the concession period. In Plenary on 17 January 2017, the Cabinet Secretary expressed disappointment that the UK Government is not considering writing off the debt off, as was the case for the Humber crossing, and stated that the Welsh Government opposes continued tolling. In the debate on the November 2016 Motion, the Cabinet Secretary also stated that “that the tolls should be removed at the earliest opportunity, alleviating the burden on the economy and removing the significant threat they represent to trade in a post-Brexit world.”

Welsh Affairs Select Committee report on the Severn Crossings Toll (2010) suggested that “the toll could be reduced to a fifth of its current level, to approximately £1.50 while allowing the crossings to remain self-financing”. The report recommends that the UK Government “must not be tempted to use the crossings as a ‘cash cow’”. The Welsh Government’s written response to the current Welsh Affairs Select Committee inquiry into the future of the Severn River crossings, states that the tolls should “be in the hands” of the Welsh Government and that charge free passage could provide a potential productivity boost of “over £100 million a year”.