(Title Image: Welsh Government via BBC Wales)
With the projected costs of the proposed M4 Newport bypass rapidly approaching £1.5billion – and perhaps not stopping there – the issue has once again loomed large over the Welsh Government and Welsh politics with the project’s timescales slipping and a public inquiry yet to conclude.
The likelihood is the road will be given the go-ahead later this year, but Plaid Cymru used their time yesterday afternoon to argue that AMs should give the final approval in a vote.
- Believes the Welsh Government shouldn’t commit to funding the proposed M4 Newport bypass without a vote in the Assembly after the conclusion of the current public inquiry.
Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E & Dinefwr)
For (the motion): It’s standard practice for major projects.
- There’s a range of opinion on the issue, but Plaid want to ensure the views of elected members are heard and they have the final say.
- Three years ago the First Minister said the cost would be under £1billion, now it’s estimated to cost around £1.4billion once VAT is included; Friends of the Earth estimate £1.8billion.
- You could complete the South Wales Metro, Swansea Bay Metro and possibly re-open the Carmarthen-Aberystwyth railway with the same money and possibly have change left over.
- The government ignore opposition motions so it’s right that if AMs are to have their say it should be in a binding vote. It’s standard practice for major infrastructure projects and can’t be tacked on to a supplementary budget where AMs could be forced to vote against funding a number of things they support.
Andrew RT Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central)
For: AMs need their say on such a massive project.
- The Tories agree that the institution should have a vote on the largest infrastructure project it’s ever considered.
- If the government are confident in their position, they should be able to carry the house with them.
- There needs to be an explanation as to why costs have risen so dramatically; how far will costs have to rise before the Welsh Government considers the project unviable?
Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn)
For: What about the rest of Wales?
- Transport solutions need to be future-proofed (i.e. take into account driverless vehicles).
- How can the Senedd or Welsh Government justify spending £1.5billion+ without proving that it’s part of a wider strategy that would spread infrastructure spending around Wales?
- The Welsh Government have already undermined the public inquiry by investing £135million at Newport Docks so Associated British Ports would drop their opposition to the bypass.
Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central)
For (in principle): We need modal shift (and a debate after the inquiry)
- There’s a danger the project will “gobble up” the Welsh Government’s borrowing limit and encourage more road traffic.
- Will vote against the motion, but hopes there’s a commitment to a “substantive debate” after the public inquiry has finished and an opportunity to look at alternatives.
David Rowlands AM (UKIP, South Wales East)
For: Keep the government in check.
- Concerned that if AMs aren’t allowed to have their say the Welsh Government will plough ahead with the “Black Route” regardless of the inquiry’s findings.
Simon Thomas AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales)
For: Remember the Future Generations Act.
- All AMs need to have a say in any major investment that would potentially bind the hands of a future government in terms of the environment, infrastructure and anti-poverty measures.
Mick Antoniw AM (Lab, Pontypridd)
For (in principle): There needs to be a debate, but not now.
- There was anger after the Welsh Government opted for the “Black Route” prior to a committee report being published.
- The bypass is becoming an “economic juggernaut that’s out of control” and he doesn’t want it to come at the expense of the Metro.
- Wanted assurances there will be a debate in the future.
Lee Waters AM (Lab, Llanelli)
For (in principle): I support the force of the motion, but won’t vote with the opposition.
- When Labour fought the 2016 elections their manifesto mentioned a £1billion project; it’s easily going to be closer to £2billion.
- He wants to “kill this road”, but he didn’t want to take part in opposition game-playing so wouldn’t back the motion.
- Decisions on finance – as mentioned in the motion – are decided during the budget and Plaid Cymru have had an opportunity to kill the project but didn’t.
- Any future vote should be on the principle of a bypass, as he wouldn’t vote against a Labour budget.
Welsh Government Response
Economy & Infrastructure Secretary, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South)
- Everyone in the chamber will accept that something needs to be done in Newport despite disagreements on the “what”.
- Every AM and person affected by the project has had an opportunity to have their say during the inquiry; the Welsh Government will respect this process and won’t take a decision without considering the findings.
- A project can’t be considered in isolation, but any budgetary changes that require a vote will get a vote.
Update (15/02/2018): It seems the Welsh Government will hold a vote on this after all, though whether it’ll be binding and when it will be held is unclear at the moment.