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Red light for M4 relief road at Newport

Words: Roger Milne
M4 across the River Severn

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford has ruled out construction of a stretch of new M4 motorway around Newport, citing economic and environmental issues.

The plan would have seen a 14-mile motorway built to relieve traffic congestion around Newport. It would have involved building across the protected wetlands south of the city known as the Gwent Levels.

The £1.6 billion relief road had been proposed by the administration’s predecessor and was recommended for approval by Bill Wadrup, the planning inspector who held a public inquiry into the proposals. He has since died.

He contended that there was “a compelling case for the scheme to be implemented to relieve an acute problem on the strategic motorway network”.

“It is accordingly my view that the scheme is in the public interest and should be allowed to proceed despite the sensitive landscape and environment through which it would pass.  

“The scheme would not, to my mind, have any disproportionate adverse impacts. In coming to this view, I have had regard to all statutory and non-statutory objections, representations and statements made in writing and oral presentations to the inquiry, but individually or collectively, they do not outweigh the conclusions I have reached."

However, the first minister told AMs yesterday that the cabinet has decided that the project was too expensive in the current uncertain economic climate and was too environmentally damaging.

Originally proposed in 1991 as a solution to congestion at the Brynglas Tunnels, the new motorway would have been six lanes wide, stretching from Castleton, west of Newport, to Magor, east of the city. It would have replaced the existing M4, which would have been downgraded.

In an interview with the BBC yesterday, Drakeford was adamant that even if the scheme had been less expensive he would have rejected it because of the environmental impact.

Ministers acknowledge that there is a traffic problem at Newport and are setting up a commission of transport experts to advise on measures to counter the congestion.

Environmentalists welcomed yesterday’s decision, but industry groups voiced frustration. Newport Council leader Debbie Wilcox said the authority was disappointed with the outcome but recognised “this decision was always going to be a delicate balance”.

Business lobby group CBI Wales warned: “Economic growth will be stifled, confidence in the region will weaken and the cost of an eventual relief road will rise.”

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