Alun Williams finds that the Ceredigion link road strategy is having unintended consequences

October 23rd, 2012

The other day I was in Llandysul on the border between Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire border. Shop owners I spoke to were complaining that trade had dropped dramatically in the past three years and were desperate for ways to improve things. Although I’m not sure they had immediately made the connection, it just so happens that this month is the third anniversary of the opening of the Llandysul bypass.

This was a £23 million scheme, part of the long-running Ceredigion Link Road Strategy, the idea of which is to provide a faster road link from Carmarthen to mid-Ceredigion and beyond. The Strategy has been pursued in a piecemeal way for the past 20 years or so as funding has allowed. The latest piece of work, the straightening of a 1.5 kilometre section of the A486, is taking place right now at Post Bach near Synod Inn in Ceredigion. I’ve got no problem with that, but listening to the traders made me doubt the wisdom of the bypass.

The cause and scale of the problem for shopkeepers is illustrated by the latest traffic figures for Llandysul. The figures, taken from a counter on one of the town’s approach roads, give a five-day average for August each year:

Aug 2005 = 4485 vehicles

Aug 2006 = 4537 vehicles

Aug 2007 = 3948 vehicles

Aug 2008 = 4421 vehicles

Aug 2009 = 4440 vehicles

Oct 2009 – Bypass opens

Aug 2010 = 1814 vehicles

Aug 2011 = 1798 vehicles

Aug 2012 = 1691 vehicles

As can be seen, as soon as the bypass opened, traffic through the town dropped by almost 60 per cent and has dropped further since. That was, of course, part of the idea and has been welcomed by those wanting a quieter town and drivers wanting to get as speedily as possible from Carmarthen to Aberaeron. Nobody misses the lorries trundling through, but it sounds as if it might have been at the expense of much of the economic viability of the place.

One of the roles of small towns is to act as service stations to travellers. A quick stop to buy a sandwich and stretch legs can lead to further impulse buying and the building of a relationship with local shops. I wonder if that role was considered or fully understood when the bypass was decided upon during better economic times.

Now, I’m fully signed up to the agenda of properly connecting Wales from north to south and I’m not arguing against road improvements. But, given that the Llandysul bypass took well over ten years of thought from conception to completion and then £23 million to build, after talking to local business people I found myself asking if this bit of the Ceredigion Link Road has been worth it financially, and if so, for whom exactly? There’s no question that many car and lorry drivers are a bit happier for shaving a couple of minutes off their journey time and that those couples of minutes all add up, or that many residents find the town a much pleasanter place. But are they £23 million happier? And does that make up for the losses to the local economy which affect everyone in the community on some way or other?

I don’t doubt that, somewhere, the economic benefits of bypasses like this have been analysed. It seems, however, that they’re so generalised and ‘big picture’ that it’s hard to quantify them. But bypasses are unquestionably a centralising force. The whole idea is to speed traffic on to larger places and (like it says on the tin) bypass the smaller ones. The easiest economic effects to see are the dis-benefits to ‘the bypassed’ and I’m not sure these are being taken sufficiently into account. Are small communities not a part of the big economic picture our better connections are trying to address?

These are difficult financial times. The parameters are changing and I’m only partly joking when I say maybe it would be in the economic interests of small towns to keep our road system a bit more like a visit to Ikea, where the route guides you past all the other products before you get to where you’re heading. If that sounds a bit tortuous and inefficient, put it this way. In the new economic reality, which looks like going on for some time, could the best and most cost-effective road system for our all-round economy be one that has excellent links between towns and efficient routes through them but still encourages travellers to pause for a few moments to spread some of our diminishing wealth around a bit.

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Cllr Alun Williams represents the Bronglais, Aberystwyth, ward on Ceredigion County Council.

6 Responses to:“Llandysul by-pass three years on”

  1. Gareth Clubb says:

    An interesting piece Alun. The mechanism the Welsh Government uses for determining the viability of road projects (WelTAG) has no input for costs associated with local business losing revenue. In fact, as Friends of the Earth Cymru and many others (including a National Assembly Committee) have pointed out time and again, WelTAG is outdated and seriously overstates the economic ‘benefits’ from reduced journey times.
    The whole reasoning behind new or wider roads is in collapse because the evidence on road usage points to a 4% reduction since 2007 (see tab TRA8901lWales here: http://www.dft.gov.uk/statistics/tables/tra8901/). This is no short-term blip either. The cost of motoring is having a depressive effect on the use of motor vehicles. You can read more on this decrease here: http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/consultation_responses/m4_consultation_response.pdf

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  2. Colin Miles says:

    Llandeilo will be very interested in this. Any cost-benefit analysis of this kind of project should include the consequences of loss of local trade and take steps to deal with it. And obviously there is the wider ‘benefits’ for business, tourism, etc., which result from better traffic movement. Some are financial, others more difficult quantify.

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  3. Simmo says:

    Interesting article and follow up comments.

    Following on from your comments, Gareth, regarding the drop in traffic – there is an interesting scrap going on at the moment in Transport land regarding this issue; specifically, the idea of ‘peak car’ which has been backed by transport gurus Prof. Phil Goodwin and Peter Headicar, which proposes that we have reached peak car use in the Uk and are now on the downslide. This is contested by the Dept for Transport (DfT), although they have been caught out by the figures over the last few years (as per Office Nat. Statistics figures) in trying to explain why traffic has fallen and not risen as they predict.

    I haven’t used WelTAG, but am assuming it follows the DfT guidance: WEBTAG. The DfT have been queried by transportation consultants relatively recently, I understand, for not factoring in the effects of modal shift (to bus, cycle) etc. into their WEBTAG guidance (evidence suggests that there is more of a shift to other modes than WebTAG suggests).

    It points to the DfT having a tendancy to be more ‘car-centric’ in their assessing methods than the evidence points to.

    (Sorry about total lack of references etc., will see if can pull some out…)

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  4. Jeremy says:

    As somebody who regulary travels from North East Wales to S Wales and Aberystwyth I would say that any road building should be concentrated on particular bottlenecks where particulary long delays can arise, eg Newtown or the Abercynon junction on the A470, providing short stretches of overtaking lanes on hills (anyone stuck behind a truck coming out of Llyswen may understand) would also reduce stress at times. Bypassing the smaller places will not save particularly large amounts of time and there are smaller improvements that can make a big differences to a journey.

    If I stop on a journey it tends to be in a lay-by to sample the delights of a bacon and egg bap from a van. Although very occassionally I have stopped in towns it is a very rare event. I accept other may have a different experience though.

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  5. David says:

    I heard that exactly the same thing was experienced in Whitland a few years ago. Landysul is not unique by any means.

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  6. Mike says:

    I complete the Aberaeron to Carmarthen route regularly and I have been wondering along similar things too. I wonder for example what the traffic figures for Pencader are. It is frustrating to be offered a wonderful bypass around Llandysul only to then have to crawl through little lanes and then at 20mph through Pencader which clearly was never designed for much traffic. As for Llandysul trade – perhaps they could draw attention to shops and businesses with some signs, etc.

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