I went to a Christmas Fayre on Saturday afternoon. While there I was approached by a former tribune who still involves himself with local affairs. He recounted a recent meeting he’d had with Edwina Hart AM, the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport. He was mightily impressed with Redwina. I bit my tongue. (For you know me, boys and girls, diplomacy is my middle name.) Anyway, to cut to the chase, as they say, the subject they had discussed was a new crossing of the Dyfi on the A487 at Machynlleth. To explain . . .
The A487 runs from Bangor to Haverfordwest, though for a short stretch after Porthmadog it becomes the A470, before rediscovering itself at the Cross Foxes, close to Dolgellau. After parting company the A470 then runs on to Llanidloes, Builth, Brecon, Merthyr and Cardiff. The A487 sticks to the west coast linking Machynlleth, Aberystwyth, Aberaeron, Cardigan, Fishguard, St, David’s and, finally, Haverfordwest. One might think the A470 would be the busier road but it’s often empty of traffic – especially in the ‘Green Desert’ – until it reaches Merthyr. (Though more than once I’ve been on the A470 south of Merthyr in the middle of the day in very light traffic.)
Despite this, the A470 receives far more funding for road improvements than the A487, with this justified by arguing that it is ‘the main north-south artery’. It’s not; it’s the main road from the north to Cardiff, which is not the same thing. The A487 is busier than the A470, for two main reasons. First, it has a much higher population density along its length than the A470. Second, the A487 is the main route from the north west, Aber’ and other places – via Lampeter – to the Swansea Bay conurbation. These are uncomfortable facts for a Cardiff-obsessed ‘Welsh’ Government. But the problems of the A487 will not go away, and in this neck of the woods, as the former councillor reminded me, the big and enduring problem is Dyfi Bridge.
Coming from the north, the only way of reaching Machynlleth by road is over an antiquated stone bridge in the wrong place and just not up to the standard demanded by modern transport. (Obviously, heading north out of the town means using the same bridge.) With the result that, even on good days, there can be problems . . . but there are fewer and fewer good days. Being so narrow, big trucks have great difficulty negotiating Pont Dyfi, often resulting in other traffic having to back up, with all sorts of chaos resulting. Predictably, the bridge is regularly hit and damaged by trucks. At present, there are traffic lights operating following the latest incident.
There is no viable detour – certainly not for heavy traffic – yet the road is vital for people in south Meirionnydd to reach their local hospital in Aberystwyth, or just to go shopping. Apart from the problem with the bridge there is also an issue with flooding on the road between the bridge and Machynlleth itself and, on the other side of the town, at Derwenlas. These problems may now have been remedied . . . though I stress may. Time – plus a combination of a high tide and heavy rain – will tell. So it has been obvious for many years that a new bridge is needed, and perhaps a more far-reaching solution that also provides Mach’ with a by-pass. To inspect the problem first-hand, and get a few pics, I took myself off to Machynlleth this morning. There are five photos in all, click on the ‘I’ to get a brief description.
This is the bridge over the Dyfi on the outskirts of Machynlleth. It carries the A487, the busiest north-south route in Wales. It is a vital economic artery and the only route for many in Meirionnydd to reach their nearest hospital in Aberystwyth. Yet despite the bridge being incapable of dealing with the demands of today's traffic the 'Welsh' Government has no plans to replace it.
[img src=http://jacothenorth.net/blog/wp-content/flagallery/dyfi-bridge/thumbs/thumbs_pont-dyfi-2.jpg]3550Looking Towards Machynlleth
[img src=http://jacothenorth.net/blog/wp-content/flagallery/dyfi-bridge/thumbs/thumbs_pont-dyfi-3.jpg]3200From Corris and Dolgellau
[img src=http://jacothenorth.net/blog/wp-content/flagallery/dyfi-bridge/thumbs/thumbs_pont-dyfi-4.jpg]2790Pembrokeshire Truck Heading North
[img src=http://jacothenorth.net/blog/wp-content/flagallery/dyfi-bridge/thumbs/thumbs_pont-dyfi-5.jpg]2630Close-up of Damage (Note slabs in water.)
On my return I got to wondering if the ‘Welsh’ Government had plans to improve the situation, so I went to that body’s website, where I found the following information (right, click to enlarge), and nothing more recent. The ‘Welsh’ Government (more likely, the civil servants who take too many decisions in Wales) is prioritising three – I repeat, THREE, east-west links – and one north-south route. Suspecting that the north-south link referred to might be the A470 I dug a little deeper into the website. My suspicions were confirmed. (Click on panel, left.)
In the works listed to start by 2011 the only one on the A487 is the Porthmadog by-pass, now completed. It’s probably no coincidence that this improvement is located at a point just before the A487 becomes the A470, so in many ways it’s an improvement for the A470 as much as for the A487. The only improvement in the pipeline on the A487 is the stretch from Bontnewydd to Caernarfon. (With which no one could argue.) The other road mentioned here is the A483, the old Manchester-Swansea trunk road.
Given the pressing need for a new bridge over the Dyfi why is the ‘Welsh’ Government refusing to do anything? My suggestion is that there are three principal reasons:
- The A487 is a north-south road which means that – unlike east-west routes – it offers limited benefits to English companies exploiting the colonial nature of the ‘Welsh’ economy.
- There are no Labour seats along the entire length of the A487 at either Westminster or in the Welsh Assembly, and little chance of Labour winning any. (This also explains the refusal to re-open the Carmarthen to Aberystwyth rail link.)
- Any improvements to the A487 at Machynlleth would be of no discernible benefit to Cardiff.
So yet again we see how certain parts of Wales are ignored by the Cardiff Assembly, and why. For a party as tribal, vindictive and anti-Welsh as Labour this neglect of the whole western side of the country is entirely predictable. What’s not so easy to explain is why those MPs and AMs representing the constituencies along the A487, and especially those representing the areas immediately affected by the Dyfi bridge bottleneck, aren’t doing more to press the Labour Party into acting like a government for the whole of Wales.
Which in a curious, roundabout way, reminds me that many years ago political analyst Denis Balsom suggested a tripartite political division of Wales along lines of cultural identity. These were ‘Cymru Cymraeg’ (the Welsh-speaking areas – remember them?), ‘Welsh Wales’ (the Valleys and Swansea Bay), and ‘British Wales’ (the north east, south east and Pembrokeshire). Maybe it’s time we updated this tripartite interpretation taking contemporary realities into account. More specifically, how Labour runs Wales and decides priorities.
I would suggest that Labour also sees Wales in three parts, according to voting habits, and treats each area accordingly in everything from funding on infrastructure to health care, broadband provision, etc., etc. These categories are:
1/ Areas that can be taken for granted, and therefore ignored (the Valleys, Swansea Bay and the urban north east).
2/ Areas that don’t vote Labour – so they can be ‘punished’ (the rural areas of central, western and northern Wales plus perhaps Monmouthshire).
3/ Areas Labour needs to keep ‘rewarding’ in order to hang on to power in the Assembly (basically, seats in Cardiff and close by).
Which means that unless we see a major shift in voting patterns Labour only needs to worry about six or seven (out of 40) seats to stay in power for ever and a day. This division of Wales certainly explains a lot, but is it a fair or proper way to run a country?