Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood explains why her party has pulled out of budget negotiations with the Welsh Government in protest at its announcement of plans for a new stretch of M4 motorway.
The Welsh Lib Dems are now the only party talking to the Welsh Government about a deal to support the budget. Their leader, Kirsty Willaims, says that following Plaid Cymru's decision to quit the negotiations over the £1 billion Newport motorway announcement says she'll keep negotiating but the plan for the M4 makes it "difficult".
The Welsh Liberal Democrat priority for the next budget continues to be extra support for Wales’ poorest school children through our Pupil Premium. However, it’s very difficult to see how we can support a budget that prioritises the current M4 proposals and that is what we will explain to the Welsh Government in future negotiations.
The M4 announcement yesterday was a huge mistake. It completely flies in the face of the environmental and economic issues. Our proposed alternatives are far less expensive and less likely to damage vast swathes of the environment. A responsible Government wouldn’t spend its entire borrowing powers on one single road, leaving no money left for other transport projects.
Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood has pulled her party out of budget talks with the Welsh Government in protest at the decision to spend £1 billion on a new motorway around Newport. She claimed it was a reckless and undemocratic decision, arguing that cheaper and more effective solutions to the traffic jams on the existing M4 would have left more money to be spent in other parts of Wales.
The Welsh Government does not have a majority in the Senedd and needs the support of at least one other party to get its budget passed. In the past, it has reached a deal with Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats or both. Plaid and the Welsh Lib Dems has reached an agreement to negotiate jointly in future.
This is a stand that Plaid Cymru has been compelled to make. The Welsh Government acted with complete disregard for the democratic institution when it took this decision without proper scrutiny and with no business case.
Plaid Cymru wants the M4 congestion problem resolved now and resolved properly. There is an option to do this at a more reasonable cost giving us the same answer and that is why Plaid Cymru in government turned down this more expensive and environmentally damaging option.
In budget negotiations, we would have worked hard to ensure the best value for money for the Welsh taxpayer, and yet the Welsh Government has blown a billion pounds on this extravagant project when there are more efficient and more cost-effective alternatives.
Environmental campaigners Friends of the Earth and sustainable transport charity Sustrans have both condemned the decision to go ahead with a new motorway. They claim it will devastate nationally important wildlife sites in the Gwent Levels south of Newport. They also predict that the motorway won't open to traffic for more than a decade and that the billion pound cost will starve more worthwhile transport projects of funds.
This vastly expensive, utterly unnecessary and terribly damaging motorway is the worst possible transport choice for south east Wales. And the billion pound price tag means that, at a time when traffic has actually decreased since 2007, it’s going to come at the cost of the sustainable solutions that could benefit us all. Investment in public transport and some modest road improvements could improve transport in the area at a fraction of the cost, and we could be seeing the benefits almost immediately.
£1 billion for a new section of motorway is the wrong transport priority for Wales. Investment in public transport must be the priority for building a sustainable and efficient economy, yet the Welsh Government’s consultation on the need for an M4 relief road scheme didn’t take into account other proposals that will reduce demand, such as the Metro programme, or evidence showing that car use is now in decline.
The Conservatives have broadly welcomed the go-ahead for the M4 relief motorway but claimed that today's announcement by Economy and Transport Minister Edwina Hart could trigger legal challenges.
A long time coming, today’s announcement at least shows progress and willing – finally. Make no mistake – the spades must start digging and businesses and travellers given the relief so sorely needed. Under no circumstances must that come at the expense of scrutiny – and today’s last-minute announcement has failed to take environmental concerns into account, or provide relevant detail. Welsh Conservatives have long called for M4 relief – and, while this must happen swiftly, it must happen appropriately.
This announcement today fails to take into account substantial concerns about the elimination of the Blue Route. There is a serious and substantial failure to comply with the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive and the Minister’s announcement today is likely to be mired in legal challenges for years to come. The potential environmental damage caused by the Ministers failure to consider properly the Blue Route is short termism at its worst.
The Welsh Liberal Democrats say today's go ahead for a new motorway around Newport by 2021 is a "huge mistake" by Economy and Transport Minister Edwina Hart. They say it ignores environmental concerns raised during the consultation on alternative proposals.
The consultation process appears to have been nothing more than a sham. The Minister’s claim that there were no reasons why the ‘black route’ could not be adopted completely ignores evidence provided to her by the RSPB, Sustrans and the Federation of Small Businesses. There are still huge questions surrounding the economic benefit of this development. Investing the Welsh Government’s entire borrowing powers into one single road leaves no money left for other transport projects like the South Wales Metro, which can provide much greater economic benefit for the whole area. Our proposed alternatives are far less expensive, less likely to damage vast swathes of our environment and are academically recommended. It’s shocking that the Welsh Labour Minister is remaining blinkered, ignoring these credible proposals and ploughing ahead regardless.
Three Labour backbench AMs have attacked the announcement of an M4 relief motorway,. They were unhappy with either the decision itself or the timing of Edwina Hart's statement.
Pontypridd AM Mick Antoniw and Cardiff North's Julie Morgan are both members of the Assembly Environment Committee. They were unhappy that the minister had not waited for their committee's report on the proposal and had not even agreed to appear before them.
The minister replied that she could not not appear before the committee until she had taken her decision for fear of a legal challenge on the grounds that she had not acted impartially. Mr Antoniw, who's a lawyer warned that the minister had in fact left herself open to a legal challenge by her actions.
Cardiff Central Labour AM Jenny Rathbone argued that new roads inevitably generate more traffic and said her constituents would be disappointed by the decision.
Plaid Cymru have condemned as outrage the decision by the Economy and Transport Minister, Edwina Hart, to reject alternatives to a new motorway south of Newport and announce a timetable for building the M4 relief road.
Plaid Cymru believes that today’s decision is a costly mistake. It is costly for the economy in that there will be a 15 year wait for this project to be delivered when an alternative route could have been completed a decade sooner. But it is also hugely costly for the Welsh public purse – why go for a £1 billion pound route that will mean infrastructure projects losing out right across Wales, when the £400 million blue route would have solved the problem and left hundreds of millions of pounds extra for investment elsewhere.
Economy Minister Edwina Hart has told AMs that there was no realistic alternative to building a complete new motorway south of Newport. In particular she rejected the idea that upgrading the existing Southern Distributor Road would do the job.
The Minister set out a timetable for the construction of the new road.
- Public Inquiry in winter 2016
- Start work in spring 2018
- Open new motorway autumn 2021
The Souther Distributor Road would not provide a long term solution, even in combination with public transport measures. I'd have to look at closing existing junctions on the SDR and the work would be more disruptive than a new motorway.
The Welsh Government is to press ahead with plans for a new motorway south of Newport to relieve congestion on the existing M4. The project was already the government's preferred option but it has been consulting on whether less ambitious alternatives would provide a quicker and cheaper solution that would still end the daily traffic jams at the Brynglas tunnels.
Alternatives such as upgrading the existing Newport Southern Distributor Road would also have had less impact on the wildlife of the Gwent Levels. As well as environmental groups, organisations such as the Federation of Small Businesses and the Institute of Welsh Affairs favoured a cheaper option, partly because of fears that the £1 billion cost would drain money from other projects.
The UK government has been pressing for early action from Welsh ministers. Although the Welsh Government will not have borrowing powers until legislation currently going through Westminster is passed, the Treasury says it would allow an early loan for a new motorway. It's not yet clear how a the money would be repaid but one option is to retain tolls on the Severn Bridges once the Second Severn Crossing is paid for.