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First Minister scraps plans for an M4 relief road

The First Minister said he did not see a ''compelling case in the public interest'' for the scheme. Credit: PA

First Minister Mark Drakeford has announced plans for an M4 relief road have been scrapped.

In a letter signed by the First Minister, he said he did not see a ''compelling case in the public interest'' for the scheme.

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The proposal was for a second motorway to the south of Newport, parallel to the existing M4 motorway from junction 23A at Magor, to junction 29 at Castleton, avoiding the need to widen the Brynglas Tunnels.

Supporters say it is needed to ease traffic congestion in the area.

But the First Minister took concerns over the environmental impact of the scheme into consideration and its impact on the nearby Gwent Levels.

I attach greater weight than the Inspector did to the adverse impacts that the Project would have on the environment. In particular, I attach very significant weight to the fact that the Project would have a substantial adverse impact on the Gwent Levels

– First Minister Mark Drakeford
The proposed route would have bypassed the Brynglas tunnels Credit: ITV Wales

Timeline of events:

  • An M4 relief road was first proposed by the Wales Office in 1991, but there was little progress in the following years.
  • Plans for the new M4 were announced in March 2006, but in July 2009, the Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones announced that the plans were to be dropped.
  • In March 2012, the Welsh Government launched a consultation on plans that could ease congestion on the M4 around Newport.
  • A public consultation exercise opened in March 2012.
  • In 2014, Wales Transport Minister Edwina Hart said that the preferred "black route" south of Newport between Junctions 23 and 29, including a new crossing of the River Usk, would go ahead.
  • In 2017, a public enquiry was launched to look at the £1.3 billion pound project and its economic impact, environmental and social factors too. It looked at evidence relating to 22 possible alternatives to the 'black route'. During the inquiry, the Welsh government announced that the road will cost an extra £136 million and the opening would also be delayed by two years.
  • In October 2018, AMs were told they will have a "binding vote" on whether to build an M4 relief road before First Minister Carwyn Jones stands down in December.
  • June 2019: Plans scrapped
The CBI said the announcement was a ''dark day for the Welsh economy'' Credit: PA

Before the announcement, we spoke to those on both sides of the argument to hear their views:

Reacting to the news, the director of the Confederation of British Industry described it as a ''dark day for the Welsh economy.''

This is a dark day for the Welsh economy. After decades of deliberation and over £40m spent, no problem has been solved today. Congestion and road pollution around Newport can only increase. Economic growth will be stifled, confidence in the region will weaken and the cost of an eventual relief road will rise

Today’s announcement is a short-term measure that regrettably solves nothing and sends the message that Wales is not open for business.

As the Welsh Government said at the public inquiry, the black route would emit less carbon emissions than the current road and the whole project would be carbon neutral by 2070. The wider south Wales region around Cardiff and Newport constitute only 4% of Welsh carbon emissions in total. That figure will now likely rise at a higher rate than if the black route had been built.

While we struggle to see what alternative could be better than the M4 black route, the ball is back in the Welsh Government’s court to deliver their Plan B. An urgent and credible solution to the problem of congestion around the Brynglas tunnels must now be developed.”

– Ian Price, CBI Wales Director
Andrew RT Davies accused the Welsh Government of breaking a promise Credit: PA

Andrew RT Davies called for Transport Minister Ken Skates to resign.

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Plaid Cymru, who were against the plans, welcomed the news stating that it would have been ''environmentally damaging'', but criticised the Welsh Government for the cost in delaying the decision.

The inquiry and the consultations have cost in excess of £44m. Mark Drakeford’s indecision has cost us years better spent planning for alternative and sustainable improvements to the roads in Newport and south-east, significant investment to strengthen public transport to get people off the road and out of their cars, and in developing green infrastructure investment projects for Wales.

This is an appalling way for a government to make key decisions. Time and again, we see only disorganised governance from a tired Labour party who aren’t fit to be in charge and make decisions affecting Wales.

This is the second example of a U-turn in a week. The black route was the Labour Welsh Government’s flagship policy and appears in both Mark Drakeford’s leadership manifesto and 2016 Welsh Labour manifesto. It was also his decision to write to the UK Government as Finance Minister asking for borrowing powers which would be used for the black route.

Funding originally allocated to the black route must now be re-directed to green and sustainable alternatives – as should have always been the case.

Wales needs real leadership. Plaid Cymru would create of a Wales-wide sustainable green transport package which would offer modern and innovative solutions to Wales’ infrastructure and travel problems.

– Adam Price, Plaid Cymru leader

Plaid is now calling for the £1.4 billion funding earmarked for the project to be reinvested in Wales' transport network. Shadow Economy Minister, Rhun ap Iorwerth AM, says the money could go towards "the development of a long-term vision for a green and sustainable" Welsh transport network.

We now have £1.4bn of capital investment at our disposal. Imagine what can be achieved if this was used effectively.

We need to connect our country through a multi-modal, high quality integrated and low carbon public transport system. Let’s get the South Wales Metro up-and-running, let’s look at reopening railways, from Carmarthen-Aberystwyth to Lein Amlwch in my constituency.

– Rhun ap Iorwerth AM, Plaid Cymru Shadow Economy Minister

He added: "Newport may be the focus of our transport woes but it can also be the catalyst that provides a solution to the transport woes for the whole of Wales".