Local residents and the haulage industry express concerns about the decision not to go ahead with the M4 Relief Road

Today, June 4, 2019, Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford announced that the much-debated M4 Relief Road project would not, after all, go ahead.

The decision not to go ahead was met with dismay by South Wales residents, local businesses and the haulage industry. However, the decision was hailed as a victory by environmentalists.

Road improvements a long time in the planning

Plans to improve road infrastructure in South Wales have been debated in the Welsh Assembly and at Westminster for more than twenty years.

An M4 relief road between Magor and Castleton was first proposed by the Welsh Office in 1991 but little progress was made at that time. As part of a wider plan to improve road transport in Wales, the latest plans for the M4 Relief Road were announced on 3 March 2006.

Despite the decision and the extensive decade-long debate, most parties agree that a solution is required to improve the transport infrastructure and reduce pressures on the single most important road in Wales.

  • two thirds of Welsh GDP is generated in the M4 motorway corridor in South Wales
  • the Newport section carries more than 100,000 vehicles each day
  • the M4 around Newport does not meet current safety standards of a motorway
  • the Brynglas tunnels and M27 junction are particular traffic hotspots

First Minister shelves plans for M4 Relief Road

Announcing the decision not to go ahead with the proposed “black route” – which would cut through swathes of Monmouthshire countryside – Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford cited financial and environmental concerns.

Drakeford said that, given the wider financial context faced by the Welsh Government, “Cabinet concluded that the significant level of expenditure needed to deliver the M4 project would have an unacceptable impact on our other priorities in areas such as public transport, health, education and housing.”

Financial impediments, said Drakeford, include:

  • maximum uncertainty about our financial future
  • unprecedented austerity in the public finances
  • a lack of clarity over our capital budgets for the coming years
  • exacerbated by the uncertainty surrounding Brexit

Furthermore, Drakeford cited compelling environmental and ecological reasons for not pursuing the proposed relief route: “In particular, I attach very significant weight to the fact that the project would have a substantial adverse impact on the Gwent levels sites of special scientific interest and their green network and wildlife, and on other species, and a permanent adverse impact on the historic landscape of the Gwent levels so future solutions to the congestion issues on the M4 around Newport must reflect the most recent environmental challenges we face as a nation.”

In particular, Drakeford argued, the plans are at odds with the “Net Zero” target laid out in the UK Committee on Climate Change report and the recent United Nations global assessment on biodiversity.

Plans met with dismay by local residents and industry

For those living with the regular tailbacks and traffic congestion in the South Wales area, however, the Welsh Assembly’s decision was not met with welcome.

Dave Bird, who has lived in the Brynglas tunnel area for more than 30 years, told the BBC: “People in Newport were resigned to the fact that they would find some way of delaying or rejecting the scheme. But what’s the alternative? If we want south east Wales to develop then there has to be a solution to this bottleneck. We will just have to carry on living with it and everyone coming to Wales will continue to be impacted.”

Writing in Infrastructure Intelligence, Simon Shouler said, “Wales first minister Mark Drakeford’s decision to scrap the new M4 around Newport came as no surprise. Vacillation over what to do about this section of M4 has run through all ministerial terms of office since devolution. His decision is not only bad news for the Welsh economy, it will have a ripple effect along the M4 corridor and beyond.”

The UK Government Welsh Secretary and the CBI both said it was a “dark day” for the Welsh economy.

How to manage the congestion now?

The Welsh Assembly recognised that the problems around the route do require solving and this will need investment, but suggested that other measures could relieve traffic pressures without costing so much – either financially or environmentally.

In the short term, the Welsh Government is proposing measures to temporarily alleviate congestion, including:

  • additional traffic officers to reduce incidents and lane closures as employed during major events
  • dedicated on call recovery vehicles to support traffic officers by quickly removing Obstructions when they occur as we would in roadworks
  • live journey time information to inform better choices
  • exploring the operation of junctions to reduce the load on the Brynglas tunnels
  • a driver behaviour campaign to make best use of the available road space

However, residents and business groups are agreed that a longer-term solution will need to be found.

Dealing with Climate Change

While Same Day Couriers Direct recognises the importance of protecting biodiversity and the designated sites of special scientific interest which rule out the “black route”, we would like to see the Welsh Government consider the initiatives to improve the long-term sustainability of road traffic in their thinking.

There are many measures that are already being implemented that are helping road traffic move towards meeting the net zero goals. Low carbon measures already being explored by the haulage industry include:

These measures need to form part of the Welsh government’s thinking when assessing the long-term environmental impact of infrastructure that is so vital to the Welsh economy and to local residents’ quality of life.

In the meantime, experts are predicting that rush hour delays in Wales will get worse; road users will be experiencing delays of up to 18.4 seconds per mile on the motorway in Wales by 2050.

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