CARMARTHENSHIRE councillors have again urged the Welsh Government to honour an agreement between Plaid Cymru and Labour and build a bypass around Llandeilo.
Not for the first time councillors debated a motion calling for a new road to skirt the town, where air quality is affected by lorries struggling to pass one another on the narrow spine road through it.
Some of the faces were different, but there was a sense of Groundhog Day at full council as elected members took turns to back the motion brought by councillors Edward Thomas and Hefin Jones.
There have been calls for a bypass for decades, and six years ago £50 million was set aside for one as part of a cooperation agreement at a national level between Plaid and Labour, although Labour Senedd member Lee Waters – now Deputy Minister for Climate Change – voiced concerns about it.
Experts commissioned by the Welsh Government went on to study options for Llandeilo, and came up with four: three featuring a bypass which would skirt the east of the town, and one incorporating traffic lights and the removal of parking on the town’s through-road – Rhosmaen Street – but no relief road.
An expected recommendation on a preferred route hasn’t materialised, and in July this year Mr Waters announced that a transport and logistics expert, Professor Andrew Potter, would explore the potential diversion of heavy goods vehicles (HGV) from Llandeilo. This would be in tandem with officials continuing work with the council to deliver improvements on the through-road, which though narrow is the A483 trunk road. Mr Waters’s statement said work was continuing “to progress the Llandeilo bypass scheme”, while also noting wider Welsh Government aims of tackling climate change and encouraging more people onto public transport.
The motion for debate at Carmarthen’s County Hall on September 13 claimed the concept of HGV diversion without a bypass had been “categorically eliminated as impractical” by the Welsh Government-commissioned experts. It added that such a diversion would result in HGV drivers seeking short cuts along unsuitable roads.
Cllr Thomas said lorry drivers who continued to use main roads if a diversion scheme came into force would have an extra journey of up to 30 miles, wasting fuel. Referring to Mr Waters’s July statement, Cllr Thomas, who represents Llandeilo as an Independent, claimed that “the deputy minister is trying to stall again.”
Plaid councillor Colin Evans said he recalled a meeting with former Labour minister Edwina Hart at Llandeilo’s Cawdor Hotel about the problematic through road. “She fully appreciated the problems we had,” he said. “She was fully supportive of the concept of a bypass for Llandeilo.”
Cllr Evans suggested that another meeting took place, this time with Mr Waters, at the hotel. “This is a no-brainer – Llandeilo has to have a bypass – there is no other answer,” he said.
CllrHefin Jones, who also represents Plaid, said some HGV drivers already used inappropriate roads when there were roadworks in Llandeilo and that encouraging this with a formal diversion scheme “is at best a dangerous and irresponsible proposition”, especially at a time when the Welsh Government was emphasising the importance of road safety with its new 20mph default limit on residential roads.
Support for the motion came from Labour councillors John James, Kevin Madge and group leader Rob James, who said he had always been supportive of a bypass, subject to considerations such as flood risk. “I think for far too long there has been a delay,” he said. Meanwhile, Cllr Madge said he had raised the bypass “again and again” when he used to be council leader. “Llandeilo needs a bypass, there is no doubt about it,” he said. “Air quality on that (through) road is affecting people’s lives.”
Plaid council leader Darren Price said there was overwhelming support for a bypass and that the issue for him was sticking to the 2016-17 agreement between his party and Labour. Failure to do so, he said, undermined future cross-party working and cooperation. “I don’t want to see that happen,” he said.
Many businesses in Llandeilo back a new bypass, but support isn’t universal. Speaking in 2020, some residents were worried about the damage such a road would cause to the valley east of the town. One of the, Jon Pearson, said: “It would traverse the fields and would have to be elevated above the flood plain. One in 100-year floods are now happening every 10 years.”
A Welsh Government spokesman said: “We are working with Carmarthenshire Council to deliver transport improvements on the A483 at Llandeilo in the shortest possible time.”