POWERS are rarely contained in legislation if they are not intended to be used – so why is the Welsh Government giving ministers the power to charge motorists for using trunk roads?

That is the question from Monmouth MP and Welsh secretary David TC Davies, who has written to the Welsh Government’s climate change minister to clarify their intentions around “clean air zones”.

The Senedd approved the Environment (Air Quality and Soundscapes) Bill in November, giving ministers further powers to impose air quality measures and tackle unwanted noise.

Sir Frank Atherton, chief medical officer for Wales, commented at the time: “By making our air cleaner and our sound environment better we can improve public health for current and future generations.”

The environment law sets out how the government could impose trunk road charging schemes both “wholly or partly for the purpose of reducing or limiting air pollution”.

Ministers must provide the Senedd with a statement clarifying this purpose, along with an estimate of the net proceeds for the first five financial years, expected effect on air quality, and how the government would spend its share of the proceeds.

It also leaves open the possibility of trunk road charging schemes which are not made for the purpose of reducing air pollution, in which case the government’s proceeds would only be available to facilitate transport policies.


The Welsh Government says there are “no plans” to introduce charges on Welsh Government-managed trunk roads.

Despite this, Conservative MP Mr Davies, says he is concerned about the about the prospect of road charging on the M4 and major A roads and any “economic and social impacts” it may have.

South Wales Argus: Welsh secretary David TC Davies says any road charges could 'unfairly penalise' people carrying out everyday activitiesWelsh secretary David TC Davies says any road charges could 'unfairly penalise' people carrying out everyday activities

Writing to climate change minister Julie James MS, he said: “In many areas of Wales - and in particular our rural areas - driving is often the only viable and reliable means of transport with the availability of a regular public transport service patchy at best.

“Therefore, any road charge could unfairly penalise those people who are carrying out everyday activities, such as travelling to work, socialising, or attending important health appointments through no fault of their own.

“Road charging could also impact on cross-border travel and stifle economic growth by placing a charge on trade via roads – especially if brought in alongside clean air zones in our towns and cities.”

READ MORE: Have M4 50mph speed limits really made a difference to pollution in Newport?

An explanatory document, published by the Welsh Government last spring, says the bill is designed to “expand the circumstances under which a trunk road charging scheme may be introduced”.

The document also says a clean air zone will be considered between junctions 25 and 26 on the M4 if the reduced 50mph speed limit fails to ensure “sustained, long-term compliance”.

South Wales Argus: Welsh climate change minister Julie James MS (centre) has led the government's efforts to tackle pollutionWelsh climate change minister Julie James MS (centre) has led the government's efforts to tackle pollution (Image: Welsh Government)

Mr Davies told the Argus: “Rather than help the nearly 25,000 people stuck on a Welsh NHS waiting list for two years or more, Labour’s priorities are elsewhere.

“Taxing people to use roads will also increase costs for businesses to operate and result in less firms wanting to base themselves in Wales, meaning there are fewer jobs and higher prices for ordinary people.

“The Labour Welsh Government would not have ploughed thousands of hours into developing this legislation if they had no hidden plan to introduce road charging.”

We asked the Welsh Government what timeframes would govern its judgement of whether the 50mph speed limit through Newport had “failed” and how proceeds from road charging would fund other areas of government expenditure.

A spokesperson said: “There are no plans to introduce charges for motorists on Welsh Government-managed trunk roads. Powers to implement universal road charging and to retain revenues are held by the UK Government.”