Newport M4 bypass scrapped by the Welsh Government on cost grounds

(Title Image: Welsh Government)

The latest attempt to build a Newport bypass has failed after the First Minister announced this afternoon that the Welsh Government won’t give it the go ahead.

The First Minister’s written decision is available here (pdf) alongside the inspector’s report (pdf).

Bypass couldn’t be implemented for the foreseeable future

There are obvious environmental concerns, which the First Minister said he placed greater weight on than the Planning Inspector.

However, the primary reason the project has been rejected is that the Cabinet decided on April 29th 2019 that the Welsh capital budget doesn’t go far enough to cover the projected costs (estimated at anything between £1.3-1.7billion) and could have lead to lengthy delays in starting construction and associated problems with compulsory purchase orders.

The First Minister acknowledged there was a consensus that issues in and around Newport need to be addressed and (as the Welsh solution to a problem is to form a committee) a Commission of transport experts will look at alternative solutions in detail.

In the meantime, a number of measures will be introduced to improve traffic flow around Newport including faster vehicle recovery, extra traffic officer patrols, live journey time information and a public information campaign to change driver behaviour.

Sold a pup?

Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.), said £31million was being lost to the Welsh economy every year because of the Newport M4 and – while the problem should’ve been dealt with decades ago – successive Labour governments have failed since despite £44million being spent on it.

“First Minister, you are saying that this project is now not affordable. However, last year (as Finance Minister) you wrote to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury…. asking for more money…. In this letter, you clearly thought this scheme was achievable, because….you said: ‘I will be seeking an increase in the Welsh Government’s annual and aggregate borrowing limits….. in order that we can deliver our investment priorities for Wales, including the M4 project’.”
– Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM

He suggested a number of pledges have been broken, including a 2016 Labour manifesto commitment to deliver the bypass, a pledge for a binding vote amongst AMs and pledges made during Labour’s Newport West by-election campaign.

Shadow Economy Minister, Russell George AM (Con, Montgomery), accused the Welsh Government of using the Commission to “go back to square one” when the inquiry has already examined all the alternatives in great detail.

Mohammad Asghar AM (Con, South Wales East) described it as a sad day for those who want barriers to economic growth removed, haulage companies, commuters, tourists and anyone benefiting from the removal of Severn Crossing tolls. Nick Ramsay AM (Con, Monmouth) asked what would happen to land purchased as part of pre-construction work – to which the First Minister said it was now a Welsh Government asset.

There was even disappointment on the Labour benches.

Jayne Bryant AM (Lab, Newport West) described the decision as a “bitter blow” that would condemn Newport to congestion, idle traffic and air pollution. Improving public transport in Newport wouldn’t work as only 6% of M4 traffic would be removed, while accidents force more traffic through the city itself. Any money saved from this decision had to be spent in the Newport area.

Praise the repentant sinner

Although critical of the length of time taken to reach this point, Plaid Cymru backed the decision:

“I think the proper response in the first instance is to praise the repentant for seeing the error of their ways. ….We repeatedly said….that the black route was both environmentally destructive and financially unjustifiable. I think both points have borne out in the statement….It’s financially unjustifiable because, as the First Minister said, it would have siphoned such a large proportion of the limited borrowing powers that we have, and of the overstretched capital funds available to the Welsh Government.”
– Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinefwr)

John Griffiths AM (Lab, Newport East) agreed with the decision. The recently-declared climate emergency and the importance of the Gwent Levels requires new thinking. Nonetheless, he repeated Jayne Bryant’s call for the earmarked budget to be spent solving transport issues around Newport.

Meanwhile, Alun Davies AM (Lab, Blaenau Gwent) would prefer to see it spent on economic development across Gwent, while Jack Sargeant AM (Lab, Alyn & Deeside) made the case for it to be spent on a range of projects around the country.

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