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Wales will not benefit from HS2 and needs better north-south rail links, says Westminster committee

Wales will not benefit from HS2 and it should be classified as an England-only project so that Wales’s “Victorian” rail infrastructure can be “substantially enhanced,” according to a Westminster committee. According to the Welsh Affairs Committee, of which the majority of members were elected as Conservative MPs, there is a “strong case” for spending more on transport infrastructure in Wales. Describing Wales’ rail infrastructure as “Victorian” they call for “improving connectivity within Wales, such as more efficient rail links between North and South Wales, as well as between Wales and the rest of the UK”. The report also notes that Wales will not benefit in the same way as Scotland and Northern Ireland from additional rail funding as a result of the HS2 project. “This is despite the fact that UK Government’s own analysis has concluded that HS2 will produce an economic disbenefit for Wales,” the report says. “We recommend that HS2 should be reclassified as an England-only project. This would help to ensure that Welsh rail passengers receive the same advantage from investment in HS2 as those in Scotland and Northern Ireland.” The report adds that “improving transport infrastructure within Wales must be a priority and should focus on how infrastructure initiatives can remedy deprivation, boost the Welsh economy and contribute to meeting decarbonisation targets”. ‘Slow’ The report also argues that upgrades and electrification of Wales’ ageing rail infrastructure should be addressed by UK-Welsh collaboration. The committee call for a Wales Rail Board to be in place by the Autumn – comprised of UK and Welsh government bodies – that can consider improvements and upgrades to Wales’ ageing rail network. “However, it is a Victorian system trying to support a 21st century level of service, with passengers experiencing slow services and inadequate stations,” they said. The Committee urges the UK Government to bring forward proposals – before the end of 2021 – on new proposals for greater connectivity between Swansea, Cardiff and Bristol, which could require completing electrification of the mainline between Cardiff and Swansea. Chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee, Rt Hon Stephen Crabb MP, said: “There is a compelling case for greater investment in rail infrastructure in Wales to improve journey times for passengers, strengthen connectivity with the rest of the United Kingdom and reduce carbon emissions. Reaching our net zero targets will require a significant investment in rail electrification. We believe that this should result in a reconsideration of the short-sighted decision to cancel the electrification of the Great Western mainline from Cardiff to Swansea. While there will always be voices calling for the further devolution of rail powers, it’s clear that what passengers most need is both of their governments, as well as the rail operators, working together. Our Committee has proposed a new Wales Rail Board, which would bring together the two governments, Network Rail and rail operators, which can be tasked with bringing forward a shared pipeline of Welsh rail projects and which should be in place by the Autumn.”

‘Under-funding’ In March a Cardiff University report concluded that the Welsh Government will receive less money to spend on transport “for decades” thanks to HS2. HS2 was designated as an England and Wales project despite the fact that no part of the track is included in Wales. The decisions excluded Wales from receiving the additional funding that will flow to Scotland and Northern Ireland over the lifespan of the project, researchers at Cardiff University said. “For the remainder of the HS2 project’s lifetime – likely to be several decades – the Welsh Government will now receive a much smaller share from any increase in the Department for Transport’s budget,” they said. It was part of what they called “historic under-funding” that was “being baked into the system” in Wales. The Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre report also reveals that railway infrastructure investment in Wales would have been significantly higher if it had been devolved.

‘Double whammy’ The Cardiff University report found that under a fully devolved system, Wales could have received an extra £514m investment in its rail infrastructure between 2011-12 and 2019-20. As well as perpetuating underinvestment in Wales’ rail infrastructure, the researchers warn the non-devolved system will also lead to a funding squeeze on the Welsh Government’s future budget. These amounts can be compared to the cost of several major Welsh rail infrastructure projects that have been estimated by external sources, including:

  • The Carmarthen to Aberystwyth line (£620-775 million)

  • Electrification of the North Wales Coast mainline (£764 million)

  • Electrification of the South Wales mainline between Cardiff and Swansea (£433 million)

Wales Fiscal Analysis researcher, Guto Ifan, commented at the time: “When it comes to the Welsh railways, the evidence is clear that funding would have been substantially higher under a fully devolved system – to the tune of £500m since 2011, when spending data for Wales was first made available. That funding over the course of eight years would have enabled significant improvement projects to take place. “Wales is also set to lose out on transport funding when the Treasury next sets multi-year budgets, due to technical changes in Barnett formula calculations. This is a double whammy for Wales, with the historic under-funding being baked in to the system. It is now clear that only full devolution of rail infrastructure – similar to Scotland – will address the underfunding of Welsh railways.”

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