St David's Day brings transport devolution deal

 

The Welsh Government will receive a range of transport powers including control over bus service registration and speed limits, with potentially more in the pipeline, under the St David's Day devolution deal outlined by Westminster.

The package will devolve bus service registration powers adding them to currently devolved powers such as the regulation of concessionary fares and the ability to provide subsidies. Regulation of Welsh taxis will also be devolved.

The Government also agreed to devolve ports policy as it 'fits well with the existing responsibilities of the Assembly and the Welsh Government in areas such as economic development, transport and tourism'.

Absent from the package is a devolution deal on the crucial issue of the Severn Crossings, despite Welsh first minister Carwyn Jones and others arguing that the motorway bridges and their tolls should be controlled from Cardiff after the current operator’s concession ends in 2018.

'Based on current predictions, the Severn Crossings will return to public ownership in 2018, and the Government committed in its Road Investment Strategy (RIS) to work with the Welsh Government and others to determine the long-term future of the Crossings. Any future plans should both ensure the long-term maintenance of the bridges and provide the best support to the local economies in Wales and England,' the document states.

Launching the St David’s Day Agreement, prime minister David Cameron said: ‘This is about finding lasting settlements across the country to make our United Kingdom stronger and fairer. It means more responsibility for the Welsh Assembly. It means more decisions taken here in Wales and more opportunity for the Welsh people to hold their politicians to account. And it means those who spend taxpayers’ money must also be more responsible for raising it.’

The UK Government will continue to control rail infrastructure in Wales. Critics claim the status quo prevents the Welsh Government planning road and rail investments together as part of an integrated transport policy.

The Government did announce last Autumn that it will devolve the Wales and Borders franchise after the existing deal expires in 2018, with the Welsh Government taking full responsibility for specifying and procuring the service.

However Westminster warned that in order to ensure proper accountability, 'it is likely that services primarily serving English markets will be placed into other franchises for which the secretary of state for transport is the franchising authority'.

Ministers did highlight though that they would review 'Welsh services' - train services that start, end or stop at stations in Wales - to determine whether there is a need to strengthen the arrangements for engaging with the Welsh Government. The secretary of state currently has a duty to consult the Welsh Government on them.

The thorny issue of devolving Air Passenger Duty – which has unsettled managers at Bristol airport due to competition issues - will be considered in the next Parliament. A discussion paper will be published this summer on possible varying of APD rates within England. Ministers promised the review 'could open the door for it to be devolved to Wales' though.

Speed limits powers will be devolved to Wales but existing powers to designate the vehicle purposes able to exceed speed limits, such as emergency vehicles attending incidents, will be reserved by Whitehall.

Sustrans Cymru welcomed devolution of Welsh speed limits, claiming that six in 10 Welsh residents support 20mph as the default speed limit where they live.

National director Jane Lorimer said: ‘We called for speed limits to be devolved to Wales to ensure the Welsh Government had all the tools necessary to make our roads safer and support active travel, and we’re delighted the UK Government has delivered.’

A 20mph default limit for Welsh streets would complement the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013, she added.

 

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