(This is quite a long read, but if you are willing to consider a well written and researched case against building a bypass, then you will find it worthwhile. The author refutes many of the partisan claims made by Gwynedd Council and also by Llanbedr Community Council, a body intended to represent all shades of opinion in the community fairly.)
Q1: Isn’t a bypass necessary for development at the airfield?
A1: Absolutely not.
The Economic Impact Report commissioned by Gwynedd Council from Wavehill Consultants of Aberaeron gives three scenarios for development at the airfield.
- Development to continue as it has done for the last 5 years since the enterprise zone was established.
- Research and development into unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) for which planning permission already exists
- Development of a spaceport.
The Report concludes “this study has found that the direct economic impact of proposed roadworks in and around Llanbedr to improve access to the nearby airfield as a stand-alone intervention is limited.” It also concludes that a spaceport would not be viable without road access improvements but other developments at the airfield could happen without the improvements.
However even a spaceport does not require a bypass. A simple access road from the A496 between Llanbedr and Dyffryn Ardudwy will provide a more secure and safer access to the airfield which would avoid heavy vehicles having to turn into Mochras Road.
Together with improvements to parking in the village, the provision of a footbridge and walkways and other traffic measures this would solve allof the named issues. However despite looking at a total of 23 of their own “options”, this option was not even considered by Gwynedd Council despite it being pointed out to them on many occasions.
The Gwynedd Council optioneering report for the bypass states that they have considered the following issues as solutions raised by the Community Council, but in fact none of these issues actually forms part of their proposed solution:
- Removal or reduction of street parking in the village centre;
- Provide 2 or more smaller car parks to encourage vehicles to park away from the main street;
- Develop the Safe Routes in Communities project to its full potential;
- Develop and improve the School Travel Plan;
- Improve access and egress to Shell Island for different road users;
- Carry out improvements for access to and from the railway halt for pedestrians;
- Consider alternative access to and from any proposed Llanbedr Airfield developments;
- Provide a footbridge alongside the existing listed structure;
- Consider developing a new community centre;
- Consider options to improve local access to the All Wales Coastal Path;
- It was noted that the public transport provision along the coastline needed to be improved, and;
- Develop a possible walking and cycling route around the village curtilage with links to village centre.
Q2: Isn’t a bypass needed to improve pedestrian safety in the village?
A2: No, there are other ways to do this.
There is a perception that pedestrians are at risk of injury in Llanbedr – especially school children and the elderly. This is because there are no pavements and a lot of traffic speeds on entering and leaving the village. In fact there has not been a traffic related personal injury accident in the village for at least 40 years!
Pedestrian safety can be easily improved without the need for a bypass. Walkways can be added to the road in many places and a new footbridge next to the road bridge would separate pedestrians from the traffic at the narrowest point. Speed cameras can be installed at either end of the village on the A496.
These options have been given to Gwynedd Council to consider, but do not form part of their plan.
Q3: …and other safety issues?
As stated above there has not been a single traffic related injury in the village for over 40 years. The report “ LLANBEDR ACCES S IMPROVEMENTS WELTAG STUDY, PLANNING STAGE AND APPRAISAL (STAGE 1)” produced by Gwynedd Council into the bypass predicts in Section 5.4.11 that there will be an increase of 21 injuries/deaths from the new road (actually it’s 20.6 but what is 0.6 of an death?).
The proposed junctions are dangerous – we all know what happened at Dolgellau – and it is proposed to have a 60mph speed limit. The Community Council call for roundabouts at the three junctions has been rejected by Gwynedd Council even though their report states that one of these junctions would not comply with national design guidelines. The reason for rejection is that there is not enough traffic to warrant a roundabout – but it would seem there is sufficient traffic to warrant an expensive bypass!
*** If this bypass goes ahead then a fatal accident can be expected within a short time. ***
Q4: Isn’t a bypass needed to remove congestion especially at the Mochras Road junction and on the bridge?
A4: No, there are alternatives, which are far cheaper and cause less damage to the village.
This is a difficult junction due to the angle of the bridge and the fact that the junction gets blocked by vehicles travelling north preventing vehicles from the south turning into Mochras Road which in turn blocks vehicles further back. In addition parked vehicles cause obstructions. There is often congestion during the peak periods in the summer for tens of minutes. However there is very little problem outside of these peak periods which actually only account for 5% of the year.
The bridge cannot be altered as it is listed by CADW. However by removing the pavement on the bridge (replaced by the new pedestrian footbridge) which will widen the carriageway by just under a metre, painting yellow box hatching at the junction (and at the other junction by the Victoria Inn) and restricting parking at peak periods traffic should flow much easier. The parking is a key issue and suitable off street parking spaces have been identified which would allow residents to park without charge and enable short term shoppers to park. Long term parking could also be provided in the village.
*** Suitable parking areas in the village do not form part of Gwynedd Council plans ***
Q5: Isn’t the bridge too weak for the traffic load?
A5: Surprisingly no. Although the bridge was obviously never built for heavy traffic it is in excellent condition. It is inspected regularly and the latest report by Gwynedd Council states that the bridge is in excellent condition.
Q6: What impact will the proposed bypass have on the environment?
A6: It will totally destroy the environment which is supposed to be protected as part of the National Park.
The new road built on a 20 feet high embankment across the northern flood plain will be highly visible from not only Llanbedr village itself but from the Rhinogs to the East, from Llanfair to the North and from the beaches and coastline from Llandanwg to Dyffryn Ardudwy. This urbanisation of the landscape is hardly the sort of view that thousands of visitors to the area come here for. At the southern end the proposed bypass will run very close to Maes Artro holiday village effectively ruining the view from many of the properties.
Gwynedd Council are supposed to produce photo-montages to show the visual impact but these are not yet available. They have though produced a highly distorted video fly-through of the route which is taken from such a high angle (bird’s eye view) that the visual impact from ground level cannot be seen.
*** If the bypass goes ahead then the unspoiled beauty of our village’s setting will be lost forever ***
Currently traffic is limited to 30 mph through the village and the road passes very close to many properties. Each vehicle can be heard for around 4 to 5 seconds as it passes based on personal observations. With the bypass, traffic will be able to travel up to 60 mph and, using simple trigonometry, each vehicle will be heard for around 30 seconds. The bypass is much further away from properties than the current road but the effect of the higher speed and longer dwell time means that there will be an almost constant road noise. If in any doubt about this visit the Porthmadog football ground adjacent to the Porthmadog bypass and you will hear for yourself. Or closer to home listen to the noise of vehicles travelling along Sarn Hir from Pensarn to Llanbedr.
A noise assessment has been carried out for Gwynedd Council by a contractor called Arcadis. In this they state that mitigation measures to reduce the noise impact are not required but they have not taken into account the topography of the area and have used noise levels which might be expected in cities (a reading of 68dB) rather than in a quiet rural National Park (typically 30dB, which is 8000 times quieter than 68dB). One of the legal purposes of the National Park is to preserve the peace and tranquillity. The report claims that the village will be quieter after the bypass is built but all evidence suggests the exact opposite will happen.
*** If the bypass goes ahead then the village will be plagued by a constant drone of high speed traffic noise ***
The proposed bypass will cross the flood plain of the Afon Artro at the northern end of the village. The purpose of the flood plain, which is protected by 6 feet high embankments, is to ensure that during high tides and/or excessive rain, the river can safely flood across empty land rather than into properties in the village. By building a large embankment across the flood plain this ability to flood empty land will be compromised. Gwynedd Council have proposed installing numerous 900mm culverts under the embankment to allow flood water through. But there is ample evidence every winter of properties throughout the UK flooding because culverts get blocked.
Natural Resources Wales which is responsible for flood protection has said that a flyover or even a viaduct may be needed but they have not yet been asked to comment formally on the flood risk. An internal email from NRW has stated “If we were to be consulted formally by the SNP on a planning application then we would be objecting until we fully understand the impact on flood risk that the proposal would have.” There is a real danger that if this proposal goes ahead the flood risk in the centre of the village will increase in future years.
But there is also the issue of the Government policy on shoreline management which has received a lot of press especially regarding the policy to abandon Fairbourne to tidal inundation. This policy, which is contained in the West Wales Shoreline Management Plan, is endorsed by both Gwynedd Council and the Welsh Assembly Government.
As regards the Artro estuary the plan states “…the most significant increase in area of flooding is over the airfield. The majority of buildings at the northern end of the runways would now be subject to flooding on a normal spring tide.
It would however be anticipated that there would be loss of property and existing use in the area of Morfa Mawr and in terms of development to the airfield.”
In other words the official policy is that the north end of the airfield together with the access road to it will not be sustainable and will be allowed to flood. So in future it won’t just be Shell Island that has no access at high tide! Ironically the point at which the proposed bypass enters Mochras Road is very close to the area which will be subjected to flooding! Strangely (or not) there seems to be no mention of the Shoreline Management Plan in Gwynedd Council’s proposals!
But there’s even more! Natural Resources Wales believes that the enterprise zone itself is non-compliant with Welsh Government policy contained in Technical Advice Note TAN15. This could jeopardise Welsh Government funding. Again an internal NRW email states “We would also advise that we have not had any detailed discussions regarding the Enterprise zone (Llanbedr airfield) and its current/future flood risk; …(it) is likely that it will not demonstrate compliance with TAN15 and we would raise an objection”. TAN15 also requires that any road proposed for flood plains must be “necessary” before it is allowed. Necessary means there are no suitable alternatives – clearly not the case here.
*** If this scheme goes ahead then flood risk in the village will be increased ***
A lot of work has been done by Gwynedd Council’s consultants to determine the impact of the bypass on wildlife. A nesting site for protected bats will be disturbed – there are proposals to relocate this. No mention is made of the danger from the bypass to barn owls which are known to be in the area and which have been shown at other locations to be vulnerable to traffic.
The Gwynedd Council WelTAG report states for the bypass option “suitable habitat for otters, badgers, breeding birds, Barn Owls, water voles and bat species could be lost”.
Llanbedr has an excellent example of an ancient monument in the Standing Stones (Meini Hirion). These are believed to mark the start of a trade route causeway from the high water mark of the river across the Rhinogs and probably date back to the Bronze Age. They are not well advertised but their peaceful location in a completely natural and undeveloped setting will be totally spoilt and their setting become meaningless by the large embankment crossing between them and the river and the noise from a fast road. It is understood that Gwynedd Council have suggested building a car park and access path to the Stones as compensation for their loss of setting.
Q7: Why does Gwynedd Council want a bypass then ?
A7: Gwynedd Council has long wanted to build a bypass at Llanbedr dating back to 1952. It is a political ambition with kudos for Gwynedd Council and many local and national politicians. Proposals have been put forward over the years and rejected by the local community. In addition Gwynedd did not have the funds for a bypass. However they have now found a way for the Welsh Assembly Government (that is we taxpayers) to stump up the cash by calling it an Access Improvement scheme for the Enterprise Zone. It has been clear since the start of the process that this was Gwynedd Council’s aim all along.
There may be another reason. Llanbedr lies in the Snowdonia National Park which is outside the planning remit of Gwynedd Council. By forcing this proposal through with the backing of regional politicians it ensures that Gwynedd Council shows that it can overpower the National Park Authority when it so desires. The SNPA are quite limited in what they are able to reject even though they currently have significant legal standing.
Q8: What impact will the bypass have on businesses in the village?
A8: It will destroy most businesses in the village.
The Economic Impact Assessment report, produced for Gwynedd Council by Wavehill Consultants, states that if a bypass is built “it is recognised that businesses in Llanbedr could be adversely affected by a reduced volume of traffic passing through the village”. However the effect of this is not quantified nor taken into account in their conclusions ; rather it focuses on what MAY happen in terms of development at the airfield which MAY bring jobs. It is worth noting that since the Enterprise Zone was established 5 years ago there are only 6 or 7 jobs at the airfield. The Wavehill report is based on the false premise that there are 50 jobs at the airfield – a falsehood put out by Gwynedd Council and Snowdonia Aerospace in order to strengthen their argument.
In addition the Wavehill report is clearly very out of date and written by someone who has never even visited the village. If the true figures are used there is even less of an economic case for the bypass.
So what does this mean? Shops and businesses in the village (such as the Vic, for example) will, over the course of a few years, see a gradual reduction in trade as they would no longer visible to passing traffic. The idea of putting up brown tourist signs on the bypass to draw people in is just plain laughable – it just doesn’t work. People will instead stop at those places they do pass such as Harlech and Dyffryn Ardudwy. There will still be local trade but this is not sufficient to keep most of these businesses solvent – they rely on passing trade to earn a living. We will gradually see one business after another in the village close – with the loss of jobs and more importantly the loss of village life. No pub to go to, nowhere to buy a newspaper or pint of milk, nowhere to get those last minute supplies – just think about it.
Don’t believe it? Then visit Clynnog Fawr which had a bypass built by Gwynedd Council a few years ago. Even our MP, Liz Savile-Roberts, who strongly supports the bypass here recognises the potential harm to businesses and has said we must not have another Clynnog Fawr – but that is exactly what we will have if this proposal goes ahead.
*** If the bypass goes ahead it will seriously damage shops, pubs and other businesses in the village ***
Q9: What about development at the airfield?
A9: Most people in the village probably wish to see the airfield up and running, employing local people and contributing to the local economy. Even using highly distorted figures for numbers employed at the airfield the Wavehill report concludes that development at the airfield is not dependent on a bypass. In other words development as a business park, as a centre of excellence for unmanned aerial vehicles and as an airfield does not require a bypass to be built. This is hardly surprising given that the airfield operated as a MoD and Qinetq facility employing up to 200 people without a bypass.
In the Environmental Impact Assessment, which will form part of the planning application for the bypass, Gwynedd Council state “no specific physical development of the airfield site is currently
planned or anticipated on a significant scale in the near future, with the economic model being based on the growth in industry primarily utilising existing infrastructure.”
In other words even Gwynedd Council do not expect any significant development at the airfield so what is the point of building a new road for it? Surely the money would be far better spent in providing businesses and jobs at the airfield.
However if we want a spaceport in our village then the report concludes that improved access to the airfield is required. Do we want a spaceport here? – well no-one has bothered to try to find out. The Community Council has decided it doesn’t want to get involved in the debate. Even a spaceport though does not require a bypass!
*** A successful business park, research centre, and airfield does not need a bypass to prosper ***
Q10: Won’t a spaceport create lots of highly paid jobs?
Wouldn’t it be nice to think of highly paid space sector jobs being handed to local youngsters? The Wavehill report states that “Our impact assessment…of spaceport which could be developed in Llanbedr, indicates an estimated increase of 59 net additional jobs locally”. Of these only 38 are actually spaceport related jobs the others being support work. Some of these could be taken by locals. However the skill set required for the most highly paid jobs mean that the posts are most likely to be filled from a national or even international recruitment.
The development of a spaceport at Llanbedr will mean the almost certain closure of Shell Island, Benar Beach and Dyffryn Seaside Village for safety reasons or for runway extension. Large areas of the coast including beaches at Llandanwg and Dyffryn Ardudwy as well as the harbour at Pensarn will also become untenable. In all this will result in the loss of around 150 jobs (around 50 permanent and 100 seasonal) as well as the loss of income form tens of thousands of visitors to the area. None of these has been considered in the Wavehill report.
So a spaceport MAY offer a few good jobs, but not that many, and will definitely see the loss of over a 100 real and existing jobs.
*** Remember the ONLY justification of any sort for building a new access road to the airfield (or bypass to give it its proper name) is to attract a spaceport ***
Q11: Did Gwynedd Council follow Welsh Government guidelines in drawing up this proposal?
A11: No, of course not!
Transport projects to be funded by the Welsh Assembly Government are required to comply with guidelines called WelTAG (Welsh Transport Appraisal Guidance). This is a comprehensive document which details how consultation is to be conducted, who should be involved in decision making and what sort of parameters to consider.
It requires consultation with all interested parties (“stakeholders”) to be clear and unambiguous. Gwynedd Council did not do this as they did not call the scheme a bypass (and still don’t) which meant may people who are affected by a bypass did not contribute. They also changed the option numbering between meetings which meant it was difficult to follow which options were under discussion and they did not properly advertise the consultation.
WelTAG also require that stakeholders are involved in the optioneering process. Gwynedd Council only used their own staff to carry out the selection of options.
WelTAG requires that no previous scheme is allowed to influence the decision but Gwynedd Council have made it clear, in documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, that from the outset they saw this scheme as a way to fund the bypass using Welsh Government money.
WelTAG also states that no matter what stage a project is at, if new ideas are brought forward they must be considered. Despite repeated requests for them to do this with some of the alternative proposals listed above, Gwynedd Council has refused to reconsider the scheme.
Q12: Did Gwynedd Council have a full consultation involving the public?
A12: No, despite their claims
They did not advertise any of their so-called consultation events as relating to a proposed bypass – in fact some of the events were so poorly advertised that very few people attended.
Even when the public did respond by selecting their favoured option (two link roads), Gwynedd Council then decided, on its own, that this option should be replaced with a bypass.
At the last of these sessions in November 2014, attendees were asked to complete a form with issues of concern and were asked if a response was required. Not a single one of these has been responded to by Gwynedd Council and they have not published the details of the issues.
Q13: What is the cost of the scheme and how else could this money be used?
A13: The scheme was preliminary costed at £11M excluding the design work (on which close to £1M has already been spent), the purchase cost of land or footway and parking provision in the village. Given the nature of the terrain this is likely to be a gross underestimate but a figure of £13M total will be used here.
If, instead of a bypass, all of the alternative options were implemented, that is
- Access road from the A496 directly to the airfield
- Footbridge over the Artro
- New pedestrian footways into the village and to the railway station
- Widening of the road over the bridge
- New off street parking at three or four identified locations
- Yellow box hatching at junctions
- Short term parking for shops in designated bays
- Speed cameras
then it is estimated that at least £6M would be saved off the total cost and all of the objectives (except the political one) would be achieved. There is the danger that by going for the expensive bypass option (that is putting all the eggs in one basket) funding will not be available and no action will be taken to improve traffic in the village.
The £7M left over in theory could be used to improve public transport, local medical facilities, local leisure centres and social care in Gwynedd – although of course the money would more likely stay in Cardiff!