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.
– Liberal Democrat Economy spokesperson Eluned Parrott AM
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.
– Plaid Cymru Transport Spokesperson Rhun ap Iorwerth AM
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 has announced a new M4 relief road south of Newport is to be built.
The section will also have walking and cycling facilities and the government says it will compliment plans for a metro system for the Cardiff region.
The Plan is seeking to improve accessibility for people, Welsh goods and services to international markets by addressing capacity and resilience issues on the main gateway into South Wales.
This will deliver clear benefits for businesses and commuters and complements our proposals for a Metro system for the Cardiff Capital Region.
I have agreed for my officials to begin the procurement of a contractor to progress the design of the scheme.
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.