Welsh Secretary says he 'won't rest' until M4 relief road goes ahead

Plans for an M4 relief road were scrapped in 2019. Credit: PA Images

The Welsh Secretary has told MPs that the UK Government will ensure that a freeport is established in Wales and hasn't given up on building an M4 relief road, despite the opposition of the Welsh Government.

Simon Hart was giving evidence to the House of Commons Welsh Affairs Committee answering questions about both his role as a UK Government cabinet member and about relations between the two governments.

He said relations were better than is often reported, but accepted that some tensions and differences remained.

He blamed the Welsh Government for blocking plans to establish a freeport in Wales. Creating freeports was a key Conservative promise to boost the economy after Britain's departure from the European Union.

Holyhead on Anglesey is seen as a prime candidate for the scheme, which would see funding and tax breaks given to the selected ports - but Welsh ministers have questioned the funding arrangements for it.

Mr Hart told the MPs that the UK Government has the power to deliver one even if the Welsh Government continues to oppose it, but would "rather do it as a team effort with the Welsh Government."

However he then added that "it is a case of when, not if" one is created.

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “At present, no formal offer has been presented to the Welsh Government on a proposed Welsh freeport. We have been clear that we cannot accept the proposal that a Welsh freeport would receive just £8m in financial support while each freeport in England gets £25m.

“Welsh Ministers wrote to the UK Treasury in February, making this clear while setting out the conditions where a joint approach could be taken. We are yet to receive a response to this letter. It is not possible to take a decision without a proposal from the UK Government.”

The Welsh Secretary also spoke about another area of tension with the Welsh Government - plans for an M4 relief road around Newport.

The plans have been rejected by the Welsh Government, but Conservatives in Cardiff Bay and Westminster remain committed to the project. 

The Prime Minister has repeatedly spoken of his determination to see it happen, even though - under devolution - it is the responsibility of the Welsh Government, not the UK Government.

Simon Hart told the committee that he doesn't consider plans for an M4 relief road as dead, saying: "I don't regard any idea as dead... we have to keep chipping away at these things. It may take years to persuade our colleagues to revisit these things... I'm not going to rest until we get a yes on this one."

There was criticism, too, of a Welsh bishop for her comments on social media.

The Bishop of St Davids Dr Joanna Penberthy apologised and said she "deeply regretted" the Twitter post in which she said "Never, never, never trust a Tory".

The Welsh Secretary told MPs the tweet was 'an extraordinary act of intolerance' and says he's written to the Archbishop of Canterbury to discuss the matter.

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