Scepticism of, but formal backing for, Newport M4 commission

(Title Image: Welsh Government)

While there’ve been a flurry of statements and debates on climate change and the B-word, AMs are also resolutely determined to talk the Newport bypass into the dirt too. Most of this was a repeat of a recent debate, so I’m only going to focus on anything said that was new.

The Motion

The Senedd:

  • Notes the Planning Inspector’s report and decision letter published on 4th June 2019, including an oral statement, regarding the M4 corridor around Newport.
  • Notes the proposed next steps outlined including the establishment of an expert Commission to be led by Terry Burns.
  • Recognises the significant congestion issues on the M4 around the Brynglas Tunnels and the impact it has on Newport and the wider economy.
  • Notes the Welsh Government’s commitment to developing and funding sustainable and effective solutions to congestion issues as part of an integrated, multi-modal and low carbon transport system.

“Only responsible” to respond to new challenges

Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South) said it was “only responsible” for a government to respond accordingly to new challenges when they present themselves. He was resolute, however: doing nothing wasn’t an option. The Commission will be “small and focused” and will consider the views of all interested parties.

In the short-term, additional breakdown and recovery patrols will be introduced. While other major road projects in other parts of Wales are still set to be delivered, the Minister said nobody should get their hopes up that the M4 budget will be ring-fenced for alternative schemes:

“….not all of the money that was allocated to the black route is available for a road-based solution….on the M4 because one of the reasons why the First Minister decided not to grant the Orders was because it would have drawn capital from other vitally important infrastructure. However, the First Minister has been clear that the recommendations put forward by the commission will have the first call on funding set aside by the Welsh Government to resolve the issues.”
– Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates

Shadow Economy Minister, Russell George AM (Con, Montgomery), was disappointed that a binding vote won’t go ahead despite it being promised. The Commission was just kicking a can down the road and what was to stop the Welsh Government dismissing their recommendations in six months time?

Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn) bemoaned the eight wasted years getting to this position and believed that the issues should be left to the national infrastructure commission, not an entirely new one.

A Welsh problem, not a Newport one

Jayne Bryant AM (Lab, Newport West) said the Newport bottleneck was a Welsh problem, not just confined to the city itself. While respecting the views of ecologists, we can’t go back to square one and she repeated calls for any money earmarked for Newport to be spent in Newport.

A number of AMs said public transport and car-sharing needed to be incentivised, while Delyth Jewell AM (Plaid, South Wales East) supports a “hybrid strategy” of public transport and rail freight investments combined with smart technology on the road network.

“I would totally refute and reject (the blue route – upgrading the A48), and I wonder if those making those suggestions have ever driven on that road, with its roundabouts, its traffic lights and its junctions….that route goes through the heart of many communities with many thousands of people living there, and they do not want to be subjected to the higher volume of traffic, the higher speed of traffic, that would bring those associated problems of air pollution and noise to those communities.”
– John Griffiths AM (Lab, Newport East)

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