THE Welsh Government is weighing up a proposal to upgrade the A48 as an alternative to draft plans for a new M4.

Edwina Hart, economy minister, says the possibility of upgrading the Southern Distributor Road and the Steelworks Road is being considered as an alternative to building a £1 billion three-lane motorway on the Gwent Levels.

The so-called £380 million "blue-route" has been backed by transport expert Professor Stuart Cole and environmental groups, but was not in the now-closed consultation.

Under the scheme the two roads would be reconstructed as a two-lane dual carriageway to motorway standard, and would link junctions at Magor and Tredegar Park.

A letter from Edwina Hart to Tom Clarke, chief executive of the Gwent Wildlife Trust, confirmed that the “blue route will be considered as an alternative to the draft plan submitted during the consultation exercise.”

Mr Clarke, a major figure within the Campaign Against the Levels Motorway, told the Argus: “I think that is a victory for common sense and I am grateful to the minister for doing that."

He said he has never led a campaign that nothing should be done: “But it’s essential all options are considered in addressing transport issues around Newport.”

It is too early to say whether this changes campaigners views on taking legal action, which lawyers for the Gwent Wildlife Trust and Friends of the Earth Cymru have warned the Welsh Government could happen.

The Institute of Welsh Affairs think tank has previously warned that the new M4 project could swallow up all of Wales’ borrowing powers, and its director Lee Waters yesterday said Mrs Hart’s move was a “reflection of the financial reality”.

Newport council Tory opposition leader and long time M4 relief road supporter Matthew Evans said the news is “extremely worrying” and hoped the Welsh Government wouldn’t “back track again”.

Cllr Evans said the blue route was “woefully inadequate” and that a “glorified SDR road is not going to solve the problem”.

William Graham, Tory AM for South Wales East, said an M4 Relief Road is vital to ease chronic congestion.

He added: “The Southern Distributor Road, with its numerous roundabouts, traffic lights and 50mph speed limit, was not designed to be an alternative motorway route.”

A Welsh Government spokesman said: “All responses to the consultation, including any alternatives proposed, are currently being reviewed.

“We will report on findings and next steps once this review is complete.”