M4 relief road: Newport motorway plans scrapped

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M4 traffic

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The M4 relief road was proposed as a solution to tackling congestion on the M4 around Newport

The Welsh Government will not build the £1.4bn M4 relief road, First Minister Mark Drakeford has decided.

He axed the scheme because of its cost and impact on the environment.

The plans would have seen a 14-mile motorway built as a gateway into south Wales in a bid to tackle the congestion faced by motorists around Newport.

Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns said it was a “dark day” but Friends of the Earth said it was “great news for Wales and the planet”.

Mr Drakeford’s decision to scrap the six-lane scheme follows a public inquiry overseen by planning inspector Bill Wadrup, who said the case for the road had been “compelling”.

Mr Cairns added: “It appears that the first minister thinks he knows better than the independent inquiry.”

It is the third time Welsh ministers have shelved plans for the M4 relief road, and breaks a Welsh Labour manifesto pledge from 2016.

At least £44m was spent on a public inquiry and other development costs.

The decision – point-by-point

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  • Welsh Government cabinet had decided in April it would not fund the scheme due to “the financial position of the Welsh Government, the cost of the project”
  • But Mark Drakeford said how Welsh Government money is allocated was beyond the inquiry’s scope
  • Even if funds had been available, he would have not gone ahead with it anyway
  • He attached more weight than the inspector did “to the adverse impacts that the project would have on the environment”
  • He said the project would have had “very significant weight” to the impact to the Gwent Levels, its wildlife and historic landscape
  • “In my judgement the project’s adverse impacts on the environment (taken together with its other disadvantages) outweigh its advantages,” he concluded.

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Media captionWhat is it like living next to the M4?

Planning inspector Bill Wadrup, who has died since the end of the inquiry last year, concluded that there was a “compelling case for the scheme to be implemented in order [to] relieve an acute problem on the strategic motorway network”.

“It is accordingly my view that the scheme is in the public interest,” he said. “The scheme would not, to my mind, have any disproportionate adverse impacts.”

Ian Price, director of business lobby group CBI Wales, said: “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.”

‘Climate-wrecking’

But Friends of the Earth Cymru director Haf Elgar said: “This is a great news for Wales and the planet.  

“As well as costing Welsh taxpayers over £2 billion pounds, this devastating road would have ploughed through the unique, wildlife-rich Gwent Levels, pumped more climate-wrecking emissions into our atmosphere, and ultimately caused even more congestion and air pollution.”

The Future Generations Commissioner Sophie Howe had been a prominent opponent of the project. She said: “All progress begins with a brave decision”, saying it was “the right one for people and planet”.

“Hope this marks a shift in policy for Wales and the Welsh Government now quickly bring forward investment in public transport,” she adds.

The Welsh Government declared a “climate emergency” in April. James Byrne, Living Landscapes Manager for Wildlife Trusts Wales said: “We’re delighted”

“This is exactly the sort of leadership we need in a world where we’ve declared a climate emergency,” he said.

‘An expensive U-turn’

By Felicity Evans, BBC Wales political editor

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Media captionThe proposed route of the M4 relief road

The letter explaining the reasons for Mark Drakeford’s decision rejects the £1.4bn proposals on grounds of cost.

Mr Drakeford notes that the allocation of Welsh Government funds is beyond the scope of the public inquiry – which begs the question: why did the Welsh Government commission a public inquiry that cost tens of millions of pounds, when the Cabinet made the decision based on factors the inquiry could never consider?

The answer to that is the change of leadership at the top of the Welsh Labour.

Mark Drakeford was always cooler on the M4 relief road proposals than his predecessor, Carwyn Jones.

Nevertheless today’s decision marks an expensive U-turn on his party’s 2016 manifesto commitment.

For emphasis Mr Drakeford goes on to say that even if cost had not been an issue, he wouldn’t have gone ahead because of the environmental impact.

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Media captionM4: What could you spend £1.4bn on?

Opposition AMs were scathing. Russell George, Welsh Conservative AM, said the announcement was a “kick in the teeth for Welsh commuters”.

Plaid Cymru which had long opposed the scheme, said it showed the party was “right all along” but leader Adam Price accused the Welsh Government of “eight years of dithering”.

“His decision means fewer growing businesses, fewer jobs, lower wages and less prosperity,” Brexit Party group leader Mark Reckless added.

Jayne Bryant, Newport West Labour backbench assembly member, said she was “deeply disappointed that an M4 relief road is not going ahead”.

“I am adamant that the money set aside for a relief road must be spent on resolving this problem around Newport,” she said.

But Labour AMs had been divided on the issue. Pontypridd’s Mick Antoniw welcomed the move and said the “financial and environmental consequences make the proposal completely unsustainable.

‘A huge win for environmentalists’

By Steffan Messenger, BBC Wales environment correspondent

Today’s announcement by the first minister is a huge win for environmentalists and others who have long campaigned to protect the Gwent Levels.

It is striking that Mark Drakeford says he attaches “very significant weight” to the environmental concerns and would have rejected the plans even if the costs of building the new motorway were lower.

It may not be the most famous of Wales’ beauty spots, but the wetlands south of Newport have been compared by campaigners to the Amazon rainforest in terms of biodiversity.

Rare birds, plants and insects have found a home here – especially in the unique drainage ditches known as reens – dug during Roman times.

The first minister said the “substantial adverse impact” the plans would have had on nature could not be justified, contrary – we now know – to the conclusions of the public inquiry.

It may be a coincidence – but his decision also comes during Wales Nature Week and a day before the Welsh Government is set to mark World Environment Day at the Senedd.

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