In my Opinion

County Councillor William Powell

President, Welsh Liberal Democrats

An historic week for Montgomeryshire

The term ‘historic’ is seriously overused in our language but it is surely justified by events in Newtown this week. The case for a by pass for Powys’ largest town goes back many decades – further back, in fact, than many locals realise. That this project should at last be delivered, on time and according to plan and on our watch is remarkable and worthy of celebration. The fact that Welsh Government Economy and Transport Minister, Ken Skates AM, is opening the Newtown Bypass this week, when so many infrastructure projects, mainly promised by Westminster, have bitten the dust in recent times, should not pass without comment.

70 years in the making

It has widely been stated in the media that the campaign for a Newtown Bypass goes back to the 1970s. However, a visit to the Powys Archives will confirm that, in fact, the first mention of a Traffic Census to help build the case for such a project goes back to the summer of 1949. The notice in the County Times of the day referred to a Traffic Census under the auspices of the then Montgomeryshire County Council that was to take place in August and September of that year. This was followed over 20 years later by calls from Newtown Town Council and the business community for much needed relief.

The power of petitioning

However, despite these noble efforts of our forefathers, it was in no small measure due to the petition, raised in Spring 2011by my former colleague in both Powys County Council and later the National Assembly, Russell George, that the plan started to take shape. When Russell presented his 10,000 strong petition on the steps of the Senedd in March 2011, he could not have conceived that he would, only three months later, become a member of the National Assembly Petitions Committee, a

Committee that it was my privilege to chair from 2011 – 2016. The petition, subsequently adopted by Russell’s fellow petitioner, Paul Pavia, was to appear frequently on our agenda in the years that followed.

Cross party working

In these days when politics has become so polarized, with the hideous divisions of Brexit and the clash of ideologies, it is sometimes easy to forget what can be achieved by consensus, by building a case and by sheer perseverance.

The Petitions Committee was remarkably free of partisan interest. The other AMs who served on the Committee throughout this period and who played an important part in our deliberations, were Joyce Watson and Bethan Sayed (née Jenkins.) Our work maybe helped to build a case that, alongside all the lobbying from every tier of government in the County, won the backing of the then Economy and Transport Minister, Mrs Edwina Hart.

Key milestones

I recall back in 2013 the Committee being advised of the awarding of the main contract to Alun Griffiths of Abergavenny – a company whose strong reputation has been maintained through the process. Then, in March 2016, just before the National Assembly election, there followed another key milestone, as work finally commenced on site.

An historic opportunity

As the Minister, his officials, members of the National Assembly, Parliament and the County Council together with local dignitaries take their places on Valentines Day, for the official opening, they can reflect on a considerable achievement.

More than anything though, what occurs to me is the enormous opportunity represented by the delivery of the Newtown Bypass. At a time when our national economy is stagnant and so many sectors are gripped by the present uncertainties, this is an opportunity, not only for the Severn Valley, but also for the wider Mid Wales economy.

As I reflect on the campaigners who have gone before, I pay tribute to their efforts, which are finally being rewarded. I’m also grateful to have played a small part myself.