AMs can’t agree on a way forward for Newport bypass alternatives

(Title Image: Welsh Government)

The Motion

The Senedd:

  • Calls for the investment earmarked for the Newport bypass to be refocused towards the rapid development of a long-term vision for an integrated transport network, which includes giving priority to addressing congestion around Newport.
  • Calls on the Welsh Government to ensure the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales plays a central role in guiding strategic and long-term infrastructure planning.

Back to square one

Delyth Jewell AM (Plaid, South Wales East) said last week’s decision to scrap the Newport bypass was correct and was a difficult but necessary step in taking action following the climate emergency declaration. What was a surprise is that there were no alternatives on the table.

“Many of us were surprised the Welsh Government didn’t have a plan B ready to go, so we’re having to begin from scratch with the establishment of yet another commission to consider which of the alternatives….should be pursued. The problems for Newport will not go away on their own. People living in Newport….are desperate for a solution to congestion and pollution that too often spills onto their streets when accidents at the Brynglas tunnels mean that traffic is redirected. It can’t be allowed to just get worse.”
– Delyth Jewell AM

Some alternative put forward by Plaid Cymru includes reconsideration of the blue route (upgrading the southern distributor road), using intelligent signing to redirect traffic on or off the existing M4 during heavy traffic, encouraging more freight to be carried by rail and general public transport improvements in south-east Wales.

Shadow Economy Minister, Russell George AM (Con, Mongomery) bemoaned the fact 28 alternatives were rejected by the public inquiry. The planning inspector largely agreed with the Welsh Government’s own estimates for carbon emissions and the First Minister ultimately disagreed with his own government’s policy. The bypass would’ve provided the long-term solution that the Plaid Cymru motion described.

“I believe there is much we can do, Llywydd, in terms of car sharing, incentivising that through employers providing space for parking to allow the car sharing to take place from particular locations. New apps are proposed, new technology can help; there is much that can be done. I believe we can incentivise freight to get it off our roads and onto rail, and that happens in Scotland, for example, I believe, quite effectively.”
– John Griffiths AM (Lab, Newport East)

Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) said that to achieve a 43% reduction in carbon emissions from transport – required over the next ten years – there has to be a massive reduction in short trips by car and the only way to do that was by providing a modern, efficient public transport system. Car-dependent transport systems also penalise families on low incomes; 23% of households in Wales don’t own a car.

Diverting focuses away

Jayne Bryant AM (Lab, Newport West) – who was in favour of the bypass – said the focus has to remain on Newport. The blue route was a non-starter and high levels of local air pollution were caused by idle traffic stuck in jams on the M4. Moves by Newport Bus to switch to electric vehicles was welcome, but it’ll be some time before the whole fleet was converted.

David Rowlands AM (BXP, South Wales East) called for restricted speed limits to be removed and for measures to be put in place to prevent lane changing before the Brynglas tunnels. Mick Antoniw AM (Lab, Pontypridd) made the case for reopening railway lines.

Blue route “trashed” by inspector

Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South), said the commission established following the scrapping announcement would look at “modest but immediate benefits to the road”. Any recommendations brought forward by the commission will have first dibs on any funding and those solutions must present value for money – and that didn’t include the blue route:

“I have to say…. anybody who has read the report could only conclude that the blue route should not be considered at all. The blue route was absolutely trashed in the inspector’s report, and I really don’t understand how Members who claim to support a climate emergency could support the blue route, or indeed how Members who oppose the spending of £1 billion on the black route could support the spending of £1 billion on the blue route.”
– Economy & Transport Minister

Vote

In a rare outcome, even the Welsh Government’s amendments failed to pass after there was a tie, meaning the Deputy Llywydd, Ann Jones (Lab, Vale of Clwyd) – by convention – had to vote against them.

So nothing was agreed. A fitting outcome.

Before you ask, I have no idea why there were so many absentees – but before you huff and puff there may well be a good reason for it.

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