M4 Newport bypass decision unlikely to be made by Carwyn Jones

(Title Image: Welsh Government)

The absence of a debate on the M4 Newport bypass in the plenary schedule – previously pencilled in for December 4th (see video below from last week) – has been the strongest indicator yet that Carwyn Jones won’t be making the final decision.

Yesterday, Plaid Cymru used part of their allotted time to outright demand the decision be made by Carwyn’s successor.

The Motion

The Senedd:

  • Believes that the decision on whether to go ahead with the proposed M4 bypass around Newport should be left to the new First Minister, appointed in December 2018, subject to the findings of the local public inquiry.

Not Acceptable

Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn) said the arguments for and against the bypass can wait until there’s a meaningful vote on it in the Senedd, which he hopes will be binding. However, there’s a simple point of principle behind the motion:

“We don’t believe that it’s acceptable for either the current First Minister to take the blame for doing something unpopular and then to disappear off the scene, or to take ownership of this as some means of leaving a personal legacy.”
– Rhun ap Iorwerth AM

Shadow Economy Minister, Russell George AM (Con, Montgomery,) said AMs will need to see the inspector’s report before deciding, nevertheless he felt the government had “dragged their feet” on the issue. After contradictory answers by a number of Ministers, he hoped we would finally have clarity on when the decision will be made and the vote held.

Jenny Rathbone AM (LabInd) “completely agreed” with Plaid Cymru’s motion and called for the Welsh Government to reconsider all options to address congestion in the south-east, in particular further investment in integrated public transport. Even UKIP’s Neil Hamilton agreed the decision will have to be owned by the next First Minister.

Built on sand

Lee Waters AM (Lab, Llanelli) said the motion was uncontroversial and it was a matter of fact that the next First Minister would have to sign off any planning permissions in the first place.

He suggested the costs were beginning to spiral out of control (though citing no hard evidence to back up the £1.7billion figure):

“It’s been stated that my party said in our manifesto that we would build a new motorway around Newport, and at that time the cost was around £700 million. In fact, the First Minister told this Chamber that it would be way under £1 billion. The public inquiry was told that had gone up to £1.4 billion – it had doubled. We now understand that it’s gone up to £1.7 billion. Now, there’s no way I’d think that this scheme’s going to come out anywhere under £2billion.”
– Lee Waters AM

He added that figures stating the bypass would result in an additional £2billion for the Welsh economy “have never been challenged” and was “built on sand”. Mick Antoniw AM (Lab, Pontypridd) later compared it to “trying to deal with obesity by buying a bigger pair of trousers” – which produced a few chuckles.

Carwyn will have power until the second he resigns

Leader of the House, Julie James (Lab, Swansea West), confirmed that the First Minister hasn’t yet seen the inspector’s report and legal advice is still being drafted. No binding debate and vote in the Senedd will take place until that advice has been received; Carwyn Jones will only be able to make the decision once he’s been through that advice – which the Leader of the House suggested, due to time constraints, was likely to be left to his successor.

There was also the likelihood that any decision will be subject to an appeal and judicial review.

Legally though, Carwyn Jones can make the decision up until the second he resigns as First Minister, which isn’t expected until December 11th. There was still the outside chance a decision, debate and vote could be held next week.

Nonetheless, the motion was approved unanimously.

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