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Last edited 23 Sep 2020
Priorities for Wales during COVID-19 economic recovery
Keeping wellbeing, social justice and the environment at the heart of Wales’ recovery from COVID-19 is the priority. This was the message put forward by the Welsh Government Minister for Housing and Local Government, Julie James MS, during an online event hosted by ICE Wales Cymru and supported by Built Environment Alliance Cymru (BECA) and Welsh Infrastructure Alliance (WIA).
In what she described as “the deepest recession in living memory,” the Minister said it was important that more than just the economy was improved, in a post-COVID-19 world. This included, she said, providing good places to live – which are accessible on foot, bike and public transport.
 The importance of the construction sector
Construction is a crucial sector in Wales, employing tens of thousands of people. Keith Jones, Director for ICE Wales Cymru, said that the sector will be vital in supporting the growth of the economy in the aftermath of the pandemic.
Jones said, “We are delighted that the Welsh Government has clearly prioritised investment in infrastructure and that it will be the catalyst for Wales in leading the way out of the unprecedented situation caused by the pandemic.”
Discussions between Ministers and the Ministerial Construction Forum (on which Jones has a place) have been held about the way forward for the industry as it recovers from COVID-19.
Minister James said, “I’ve been impressed with the way the construction industry has continued to deliver, even in these incredibly difficult times. Working together, we can develop better ways of working - tackling the challenges of climate change and strengthening our foundational economy.”
During the discussion, the Minister outlined how the Welsh Government will focus on national priorities, including large infrastructure and construction projects, as the nation fights to recover from the pandemic. It will, she said, also focus on decarbonisation, green industries, and the digital sector among other priorities.
 Areas of concentration for the Welsh Government
Fundamental to recovery will be active travel and public transport. The Welsh Government is prioritising considerable resource to deliver active travel schemes creating safe conditions for walking, cycling and public transport users in response to COVID-19.
Rail transport is also a focus with the South Wales Metro underway. This includes 170 kms of rail electrified and new stations designated across Wales. Road schemes are months ahead of schedule due to low road use during the lockdown periods.
The Welsh Government’s new National Strategy for Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management in Wales will be published in autumn 2020. It will set out the strategic approach to reduce risk to communities and provide a framework for delivery for the next decade.
The COVID-19 environment brought into focus the importance of connectivity not just for homes and offices but also for transport with digital and automisation. Emphasis on establishing good broadband connection across Wales is named as a priority with plans being considered to establish regional/community hubs for rural areas providing good local spaces in which to meet and work.
A green housing led recovery is seen as the potential to deliver significant returns on investment both in societal and economic terms. Investment will be made into new modern construction methods and a programme to retrofit and de-carbonise existing homes implemented. The importance of factoring active travel schemes into new housing developments was also highlighted.
Although the focus has been on COVID-19, progress has been maintained, with seven large projects continuing on site across Wales. Moving forward, a programme of activity across all NHS bodies is identified, including infrastructure, equipment and digital investments.
In the longer term, the Welsh Government’s investments in infrastructure will be informed by the work of the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales. In 2020, the commission has focussed on digital communications, energy and transport. The Commission will report back in November 2020.
This article originally appeared on the ICE website under the title, "Priorities for Wales’ recovery from Covid-19 outlined by Welsh Government Minister". It was written by Belinda Thomas and published on 23 September 2020.
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