Ken Skates, Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure
This Written Statement provides an update on the recent disruption on the North Wales trunk road network and sets out our plans for improving our response to emergencies.
On Friday 16 June an incident involving two vehicles took place on the A55 eastbound near to junction 27 for St Asaph. The eastbound carriageway was fully closed and the westbound carriageway was closed temporarily at the request of the emergency services so the Air Ambulance could land and assist. A local diversion was put in place eastbound which kept traffic flowing but inevitably led to delays on what was a very sunny weekend.
Once the road was returned to us by the emergency services, our response team carried out our clean up operations. The surfacing, however, could not be cleaned to a sufficient standard and the road could not be reopened on safety grounds. We therefore chose to plane and resurface the carriageway. This was undertaken overnight on Monday with the road fully reopening in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
On Monday 19 June a further incident beyond our control took place on the A5 at Chirk. The road was closed in both directions following a collision on the Ceiriog viaduct and local diversions were put in place. We were able to put in measures to allow the southbound carriageway to reopen shortly afterwards but the northbound carriageway will need to remain closed for the time being with local diversions in place to allow temporary barriers to be sourced and be placed in front of the damaged parapet. My officials are working to source specialist contractors to install the barriers, however, it is our understanding that the contractors are currently involved in other projects including installing barriers in London following recent incidents there.
Despite this, we are optimistic of having the road open by Friday morning at the latest. My officials have been working hard and challenging our supply chain to undertake these repairs and reopen the northbound carriageway as soon as possible.
Unfortunately these two incidents came shortly after the delays drivers experienced on 3 June on the A55 at Bodelwyddan, which were due to an incident involving a vulnerable person on a bridge. North Wales Police took the lead in managing the incident and there appear to have been some issues with liaison between the Trunk Road Agents and the police. It is unusual for such an incident to be as prolonged as this one was.
It is important to note that the safety of the travelling public remains my primary responsibility and concern in these unplanned situations. However, I am aware that there has been criticism in the press and on social media as some of the delays caused by these incidents were severe. There are clearly lessons to be learnt.
Therefore, I have asked my officials to report to me before summer recess with recommendations on how we can improve our response to the repair of damage on the network. They will investigate options and costs for providing an improved emergency response to the many scenarios we face during unforeseen incidents. My officials will also be undertaking discussions with North Wales Police with a view to improving communication during incidents and maximising the use of emergency crossing points, where available.
Despite this series of unfortunate incidents which have occurred in an unusually short space of time, I would like to make clear that we do all we can to minimise disruption on the network during the summer. We have a planned daytime road works embargo from Easter to September from junction 11 at Llandygai to the English Border, and from junction 11 to Holyhead during the main summer holiday period.
Our Traffic Officer service plays an important role in maintaining the resilience of the network. The service operates extended hours on bank holiday peak periods and currently deals with some 1,000 incidents per month. I have asked that we look at the potential to extend the service to cover the A483 from Chester Posthouse roundabout to Gledrid roundabout at Chirk.
Over the past four years we have carried out imperative improvement work to tunnels on the A55, road surface improvements, flood alleviation and urgent maintenance work. The investment in improving the condition of our roads and the major proposals we have in the pipeline to address congestion points on the network will greatly improve the travelling experience along the A55. I am, however, determined to look beyond these interventions, ensuring journeys along the A55 are as reliable as possible, delivering for local people, businesses and visitors alike.
The resilience study I am commissioning will help determine how best to achieve this. My intention is to look again at all aspects of the road, identifying where and how best to improve the travel experience and how to minimise the frequency and impact of incidents and breakdowns. This will complement existing plans for improvements whilst continuing to ensure the disruption of road works is kept to an absolute minimum.