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Wednesday 12 May 2021

Union Connectivity review: Joint letter urges review to pick up ‘critical’ regional schemes

Marches LEP, Shropshire Council, Herefordshire Council and Powys Council have joined Midlands Connect in their follow up submission to the Union Connectivity Review – with Sir Peter Hendy at the helm – to call for a joined-up plan for cross-border investment which they have all deemed as ‘critical’.

In their letter they state ‘These corridors have fallen through cracks in previous investment rounds due to the problems of differing authorities and policies either side of the border. We must ensure that this doesn’t happen again in this area where rurality also hinders the investment programme. To overcome this we are working together to highlight the economic significance well connected infrastructure can bring and embrace the opportunity for investment in this region. This will only happen if partners across the border commit to working with Government to achieve this.’

They go on to say ‘In light of the above, we seek your support in ensuring the proposed Pan-UK Strategic Transport Network includes the Mid-Wales/Midlands strategic corridors set out in this letter.’

The group has urged the review panel to look at the following road links in the full review between Mid-Wales and the Midlands:

  • The A5, A458 and the A483 corridor (which includes the recently announced Pant Llanymynech Bypass) providing a key economic corridor across the border, essential to Oswestry, Shrewsbury and neighbouring towns in Wales such as Welshpool and Newtown
  • Consider the international connections and access to Holyhead in addition the A41 with its connections to the A55.
  • The A49 which provides an essential north-south spine road for both freight and passengers through the Marches region, which many residents and businesses from both sides of the border depend on for local, regional and national movements. We are keen to see national support for measures which could address congestion along this corridor, particularly for Hereford where the local authority is keen to progress a transport strategy which takes carbon reduction seriously, whilst also acknowledging the needs of businesses.
  • The A44 and the A438 between Worcestershire and Mid Wales via Herefordshire.

And on rail projects they have called on the government to look at the following links between Mid-Wales and the Midlands:

  • The line between Cardiff and Newport in South Wales to Chester/Crewe in North West England via Hereford and Shrewsbury;
  • The Shrewsbury to Birmingham Line via Wolverhampton and Telford;
  • The Cambrian Line from Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth via Newtown;
  • The Heart of Wales Line from Shrewsbury via Craven Arms to Swansea

A “Union Connectivity Review” by Sir Peter Hendy, the Network Rail chairman, is expected to be published by July,  and is believed to recommend higher capacity and improved journey times on train travel between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Commenting on the letter, Midlands Connect CEO Maria Machancoses said:

“We wanted to write Sir Peter after the release of the interim report on the Union Connectivity Review. The report is testament to the depth of work that his team has undertaken and what was delivered in such a short timeframe was deeply impressive. We wholeheartedly welcome the stress placed on the importance of East-West Connectivity and access to the emerging freeports.

“We hope that we can make the case to include some of these critical schemes into the final report and we look forward to doing that in the days ahead.”

Mandy Thorn, chair of the Marches Local Enterprise Partnership, said high-quality cross-border transport connectivity was vital for the economy of the whole area. She said:

“The Marches LEP shares more than 100 miles of border with Wales, and it is essential that we have modern, efficient transport links in place which help the economies either side of it to grow and prosper.

“These transport links are the economic arteries of our region and we must ensure that they receive the necessary investment to be able to fulfil that strategic role. There is an urgent need to level-up connectivity and ensure that all areas have access to infrastructure which supports and promotes growth.”

Ends

Notes to Editors – The joint letter sent to Sir Peter Hendy is below:

Union Connectivity Review – Follow up letter

Dear Sir Peter,

We wanted to write to you after the release of the interim report on the Union Connectivity Review. The report is testament to the depth of work that you and your team have undertaken and what was delivered in such a short timeframe is deeply impressive.

When referring to the strategic links between the Midlands and Wales, we wholeheartedly welcome the stress placed on the importance of East-West Connectivity and access to the emerging freeports. We also welcome the evidence presented on the level of freight movements across the UK and the acknowledgement of Holyhead, the Humber and East Midlands Airports as top freight hubs for the UK.

However we felt it important to write to you and share our concern on the lack of acknowledgment in the draft report of the strategic significance of those strategic corridors linking Mid-Wales to the Midlands and beyond. As it stands the report provides clear support and focus to the strategic connections linking the Midlands with North and South Wales but unfortunately it fails to acknowledge the equally important road and rail connections linking Mid-Wales and the Midlands particularly through the Marches area.

Home to over 205,000 people and accounting for 34% of the Welsh land mass, Mid Wales has significant sectoral strengths in agriculture, food, tourism, manufacturing and defence; with the economy on the whole contributing around £3.6bn GVA to the UK economy. (This comes from over 12,500 VAT-registered businesses supporting 95,500 jobs).

Average GVA per head in mid-Wales and the Marches region is £19,000, compared to £26,600 in England and Wales. This reflects the rural nature of the region, and greater levels of employment in non-financial service industries and agriculture than the average in England and Wales. To overcome the challenges of low earnings, under employment and seasonal employment, we need to look beyond our geographical boundaries and work across the region.

The economy of the Marches (Shropshire, Herefordshire and Telford & Wrekin), contributes £14.3bn in GVA per annum. With exports worth over £1.8bn, there is ambition within the Marches to grow the economy by to £23.8bn by creating 58,000 new jobs through over 5,000 new businesses and over 54,400 new homes within the next 20 years.1

To maximise potential of both these areas – better links are required and these stretch across the border. As set out in both the Vision for Growing Mid-Wales 2 the Marches draft Local Industrial Strategy 3 these important cross-border focused economic geographies are critical in driving and supporting intra-regional growth across Wales and the Midlands.

There are also important cross border links for access to health particularly from Wales into England. The 2011 census data shows that Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, Hereford County Hospital and Telford hospital all feature in the closest hospitals by rank for residents living in Powys (ranking 4th, 7th and 9th respectively).

In order to support this growth potential, between Mid Wales and the Marches, and to preserve and enhance these essential links there are a number of key strategic road and rail transport corridors upon which people and supply chains across Wales and England rely on daily and which should be included in the emerging “Pan-UK Strategic Transport Network”.

As indicated on the attached map and listed below, the strategic road and rail corridors which cross the border provide significant commuting and freight links across Wales and into England. They traverse through major economic and transport hubs such as Shrewsbury and Hereford – which at the same time provide key health, education and retail facilities for businesses and communities in the hinterland and within mid-Wales. In addition to supporting economic and social growth along these road corridors provide important freight connections to the wider region as discussed within the Marches and Mid Wales Freight Strategy

These include

  1. The A5, A458 and the A483 corridor (which includes the recently announced Pant Llanymynech Bypass) providing a key economic corridor across the border, essential to Oswestry, Shrewsbury and neighbouring towns in Wales such as Welshpool and Newtown
  2. When considering the international connections and access to Holyhead we should also consider the A41 with its connections to the A55.
  3. Finally the A49 which provides an essential north-south spine road for both freight and passengers through the Marches region, which many residents and businesses from both sides of the border depend on for local, regional and national movements. We are keen to see national support for measures which could address congestion along this corridor, particularly for Hereford where the local authority is keen to progress a transport strategy which takes carbon reduction seriously, whilst also acknowledging the needs of businesses.
  4. The A44 and the A438 between Worcestershire and Mid Wales via Herefordshire. Whilst these routes don’t form part of the SRN or MRN they are recognised as providing important cross border connections between the West Midlands and mid-Wales.

Excluding transit traffic, about 7 million tonnes of road freight is distributed in HGVs to Mid Wales with a further 6 million tonnes leaving mid Wales by road. The figure for the Marches are even higher at 20m and 23m tonnes respectively. With limited SRN, this traffic is concentrated and can have negative consequences on the network. Cross border flows have

been mapped within the technical appendix for the freight strategy and show the dependence the network has on these few key points.5

The lack of alternatives to the already limited SRN in this area means that often the freight has to travel on unsuitable roads. This causes not only damage to the road itself, but issues of environmental pollution and severance in many areas.

Investment on the corridors identified will allow more reliable and resilient movements between the regions, as well as a better environment for those living in the area. It will also provide residents and businesses, access to larger markets and audiences to grow and achieve further economic and social benefits – key to the Government’s Levelling-Up agenda.

  1. Strategic rail connections between Wales and the Midlands including those corridors such as:
  2. the line between Cardiff and Newport in South Wales to Chester/Crewe in North West England via Hereford and Shrewsbury;
  3. The Shrewsbury to Birmingham Line via Wolverhampton and Telford;
  4. The Cambrian Line from Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth via Newtown;
  5. The Heart of Wales Line from Shrewsbury via Craven Arms to Swansea.

All of these rail corridors are characterised by low service frequency, slow line speeds and limited direct services to major UK cities with the only regular principal service being the two-hourly Aberystwyth to Birmingham International through services. It is imperative with the development of HS2 that we ensure lines like these are not forgotten as they provide local passengers essential access to both HS2 and the wider network.

Improvements which funding is being sought include a new station at Pontrilas which is in South West Herefordshire and close to the Welsh Border, which would serve both the Marches and mid-Wales residents in making long distance journeys. On proposals such as this with cross border significance we would like to see more effective communication between national bodies.

The corridors listed above are backed by evidence, underpinning both the challenges and opportunities associated with them. This has been captured in a number of studies and plans jointly developed and agreed by the strong partnership already in place between key institutions and Government on both sides of the border.

These corridors have fallen through cracks in previous investment rounds due to the problems of differing authorities and policies either side of the border. We must ensure that this doesn’t happen again in this area where rurality also hinders the investment programme. To overcome this we are working together to highlight the economic significance well connected infrastructure can bring and embrace the opportunity for investment in this region. This will only happen if partners across the border commit to working with Government to achieve this.

In light of the above, we seek your support in ensuring the proposed Pan-UK Strategic Transport Network includes the Mid-Wales/Midlands strategic corridors set out in this letter.

We remain fully committed to work constructively with you and your team to ensure that the Union Connectivity Review is a major success and helps support economic recovery across the nations and regions of the UK so we can collectively, support the Government’s Levelling Up agenda.

We would therefore welcome the opportunity to meet you and your officers, so we can together explore how best to incorporate our proposed corridors into the emerging UCR. Our office will be in touch shortly to help coordinate diaries.

Thank you in advance for your ongoing support.

Yours sincerely,

Maria Machancoses, Chief Executive, Midlands Connect

Mandy Thorn MBE DL, Chair, Marches LEP

Cllr. Peter Nutting, Leader, Shropshire Council

Cllr. David Hitchiner, Leader, Herefordshire Council

Cllr. Rosemarie Harris, Executive Leader, Powys Council




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