As a firm of South Wales personal injury solicitors, whose Cardiff head office virtually sits on the M4, we have, perhaps more than most, closely followed the ‘will they/won’t they continue with the M4 relief road’ drama, ever since Mooneerams solicitors came into being, back in 2002. In our individual capacities, many of us at the firm live locally, so we have, watched, read about and listened to news on the progress of the project, ever since it was first proposed in 1991.
The M4 affects our daily lives. We have members of staff who travel to and from work using the motorway and indeed some who have to travel along the most congested section around the Brynglas Tunnels. My fellow director at Mooneerams, Angus Fergusson, and I, frequently make business trips to and from England using the M4 and all our solicitors use the road on a regular basis to visit clients in their homes.
There is no doubt that congestion near to the pinch point of the section near Newport has got increasingly worse over the last few years. The scrapping of the Severn Crossing tolls appears to have added yet further to the daily traffic snarl-ups that occur.
The proposed new M4 relief road would surely bring those who travel on the M4 regularly – well, some relief, at last?
M4 Relief Road Project Scrapped
However, on the 4th June, First Minister of the Welsh Government, Mark Drakeford, announced that the proposed £1.6bn plan to build a relief road for the M4 was to be cancelled.
His reasons for not going ahead with the project were given as being;
- The cost (with estimates of the work rumoured to be rising up to the £2bn mark)
- Environmental reasons, with Mr Drakeford specifically referring to the effect the new section of motorway relief road would have had on the Gwent Levels, an area designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Historic Landscape of Outstanding Historic Interest in Wales.
In 2016, the Government’s own Economic Appraisal Report on the building of the M4 Corridor around Newport had indicated that the Benefit to Cost Ratio (BCR) was almost 2:1 i.e. for every £1 spent on the project, £2 would be generated once the new relief road was up and running. The report concluded;
“This assessment has shown that, for a range of assumed future conditions, the provision of a new section of motorway to the south of Newport is likely to represent value for money in respect of the investment needed to deliver the Scheme.”
However in announcing the cancellation of the project, Mr Drakeford, in a letter to AMs on the 4th June 2019, wrote;
“Cabinet concluded that, in light of the cost of the Project, other demands and potential demands on the Welsh Government’s capital budget and uncertainty as to the financial position of the Welsh Government, the cost of the Project and its consequential impact on other capital investment priorities, was not acceptable. Accordingly, the Welsh Government’s position is that it will not provide funding for the Project.”
In a Press Release of the 29th April, Environment Minister Lesley Griffiths declared a climate emergency in Wales, with the Release opening by outlining that;
“The declaration sends a clear signal that the Welsh Government will not allow the process of leaving the EU to detract from the challenge of climate change, which threatens our health, economy, infrastructure and our natural environment.”
Perhaps it was against this backdrop, that the First Minister came to his decision to include environmental concerns, as one of the reasons for not going ahead with the relief road. We say this because the report that followed a public inquiry headed up by Planning Inspector Bill Wadrup had concluded that;
“In my view, there is a compelling case for the scheme to be implemented in order to relieve an acute problem on the strategic motorway network.”
Mr Wadrup went on to say that the scheme;
“….. 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 my observations of the area and the site, 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.”
Mr Wadrup’s report was made public on the same day that the First Minister announced that the government would not be going ahead with the relief road project. Mr Drakeford, in his letter to AMs, announcing the decision not to proceed, wrote that;
“I attach greater weight than the Inspector did to the adverse impacts that the Project would have on the environment. In particular, I attach very significant weight to the fact that the Project would have a substantial adverse impact on the Gwent Levels SSSIs and their green network and wildlife, and on other species, and a permanent adverse impact on the historic landscape of the Gwent Levels.”
Mr Drakeford has announced that the government will set up a new “expert commission” to look at alternative methods of resolving the problem of congestion on the M4, as well as “a series of fast-tracked solutions.”
What was the reaction to the decision?
The announcement to scrap the building of the relief road was greeted with outrage from those in favour of it, such as business owners and commuters. Mr Drakeford’s political opponents had a field day too.
On the other side of the fence, there was plenty of support for the decision from environmentalists and amongst others, those who believed that increasing public transport facilities was the way forward in the first place and also those who believed that the money would be better spent on building new schools and hospitals.
Where everyone seems to be at one, is on the question as to why this project has been rumbling on and off for 30 years, whilst running up a cost to the Welsh taxpayer of £114 million only now to be brought to an end, with absolutely nothing to show for the vast sums of money that have been spent? Meanwhile, we are no nearer to finding a solution to the M4’s chronic traffic problems.
Alistair Worth is the Managing Director of Mooneerams Solicitors, specialist personal injury solicitors. Alistair is based in the Cardiff office. Mooneerams also have offices in Aberdare, Caerphilly, Rhondda, Pontypridd and Bridgend. Alistair was born in the area and has lived locally all his life. He cares passionately about the local community, both business and social.