A NUMBER of concerns have been raised about plans to build a £1 billion M4 relief road to ease traffic congestion around Newport.
In a letter to the Welsh Government Transport Minister Edwina Hart, chairman of the Environment and Sustainability Committee of the National Assembly, Alun Ffred Jones AM, doubted the lack of attention given to alternative solutions to the three options under consideration.
Mr Jones also said experts questioned whether the three options assessed as part of the consultation on the M4 corridor around Newport are “sufficiently distinct enough to allow for meaningful comparison”.
The letter also raised environmental and financial issues. It said Natural Resources Wales believes the potential impact on biodiversity should be seen as a “major negative” and not a “minor negative”, as initially set out by a Welsh Government environmental assessment.
Plaid Cymru AM Mr Jones set out a number of questions to Ms Hart, and said he wanted a response by Friday.
A Welsh Government spokeswoman said: “The Minister has received the letter and will respond directly to the committee chair in due course.”
The Federation of Small Businesses Wales, which gave evidence to the Environment and Sustainability Committee’s inquiry, said they were “keen to see the Economy, Science and Transport Minister’s response to this letter, and the many questions that it raises, by the committee’s Friday deadline”.
Meanwhile, Plaid said an “innovative” plan is needed for an M4 relief road, and that money needs to be saved in order to invest in transport links across Wales.
Shadow Economy Minister Rhun ap Iorwerth AM will this week lead an Assembly debate calling for the Welsh Government to rule out its plan for a new M4 to the south of Newport - the so-called “black route”- on environmental and value-for-money grounds, and to instead upgrade the existing A48 corridor; the so-called “blue route”.
The cost of the “black route” is put at almost £1 billion, whereas the cost of the “blue route” is around £380 million.
Mr ap Iorwerth AM said: “Plaid Cymru wants to keep the South Wales economy moving by investing in the Blue Route proposals around Newport. This would be a significant and exciting boost to the economy around the city, and would give traffic an alternative route when the M4 becomes too congested. It is a high-quality proposal which would deliver a huge infrastructure boost to Newport.”
Responding to the letter by Mr Jones, Conservative AM for South Wales East William Graham said: “Strangely interesting that a Plaid chair of a committee should raise this issue when it is the subject of a scheduled Plaid debate tomorrow afternoon.
“The blue route is already discredited. It has nine roundabouts, six sets of traffic lights, will serve 4,000 new homes and provide access to the remaining industrial complex of Tata Steel. Environmentally it is no better a solution.
“Broadly, the ‘purple route’ was adopted over 20 years ago, and if the Conservatives had not lost the 1997 General Election we would be driving along an M4 relief road today.
“Thanks to the Conservative-led coalition government funds will be made available to the Welsh Government to make this a real statement of intent that Wales is open for business.”
M4 Relief options
Using existing road alongside Llanwern steelworks and the SDR.
This alternative was proposed by University of South Wales academic Professor Stuart Cole and has been supported by the Institute of Welsh Affairs (IWA) and the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport.
The plan involves improving and widening the Southern Distributor Road (SDR) to the south of Newport, which was opened to traffic in December 2004.
The Institute for Welsh Affairs (IWA) has said upgrading the SDR and building another road through the city’s former steelworks is an “affordable” £380 million alternative to the Welsh Government’s plan, which could cost more than £1 billion.
Three-lane motorway between junction 23 at Magor and junction 29 at Castleton.
PURPLE AND RED ROUTES:
Same as black route but with different routes through Duffryn