A PUBLIC inquiry into controversial plans to build an M4 relief road resumes today after a two-month break.

The inquiry has heard hundreds of hours of testimony for and against the £1.1 billion project, since opening in Newport last February.

The Welsh Government and other project supporters believe a relief road through the Gwent Levels is the most effective solution to chronic congestion problems on the existing M4 around Newport, which they believe is simultaneously damaging and holding back the Welsh economy.

Its detractors believe it will cause unacceptable damage to delicate, irreplaceable wildlife habitats, and argue that there are more preferable solutions to transport problems.

The inquiry has been told the road will cross four sites of Special Scientific Interest in the Gwent Levels, and will result in the loss of woodland, and the demolition of 10 homes.

Despite this, environmental impact expert Dr Peter Ireland has told the inquiry the route is designed to avoid “environmental assets” where possible.

He said land to provide replacement woodland, as well as to provide visual screening and habitat for dormice, at sites like Maerdy Farm, Tatton Farm and Caldicot Moor, would “mitigate” the impact of the six-lane motorway.

“In my opinion the level and form of the mitigation measures incorporated into the scheme at the preliminary design stage are appropriate and proportionate,” he said.

As well as deep-seated and widespread environmental concerns, there are other objections to the scheme.

Among the objectors are Magor and Undy residents, who argue the project will have a detrimental effect on their communities, and argue that an alternative – the ‘blue’ route utilising the Southern Distributor Road – should be pursued instead.

The inquiry resumes at 10am today at the Lysaght Institute on Orb Drive, off Corporation Road.

A closing statement on behalf of Roadchef – owners of the existing Magor Services, and which opposes the relief road – will be submitted today, as the case for the scheme’s objectors continues.

The inquiry will hear the plans for an M4 road relief will “significantly” increase the risk of major accidents due to driver fatigue.

Roadchef, whose evidence will be read out by a lawyer, has said the plans would lead to them losing up to 80 per cent of their customers.

Simon Turl, chief executive officer for Roadchef, will say: “Roadchef objects in the strongest possible terms to the effective removal of the Magor motorway service area from the road it was built to serve.

“The absence of a properly accessible rest area for 49 miles between Leigh Delamere and Cardiff Gate will greatly inconvenience users of the M4 in Wales and will significantly increase the risk of major accidents due to driver fatigue.”

The inquiry will hear the Welsh Government scheme design “unnecessarily” makes access to Magor services from the M4 “difficult, convoluted and unattractive”.

“The service area will no longer share a common boundary with the M4, and M4 drivers would need to make a detour from the motorway of 7km (4.4 miles) eastbound and 6.8 km (4.2 miles) westbound to get there, travelling in the opposite direction to their desired direction of travel,” it says in the evidence.

“It will mean more drivers choosing to drive on, avoiding the opportunity to drink and rest, or missing the opportunity to react to signs of fatigue.”

Mr Rhodri Price Lewis QC, who will be presenting the statement on behalf of Roadchef, will say the drop in customers is “likely” to lead to the closure of the service station.

This would mean there would be a gap of 78km (49 miles) between Cardiff Gate and the next service eastbound on the M4, Leigh Delamere.

“This is extreme,” Mr Price Lewis will say. “It will be one of the longest distances and times between rest stops on the UK’s motorway network.”

Also scheduled to be heard this week are objections on behalf of Gwent Wildlife Trust (today and Wednesday), Liberty Steel (Thursday), and Natural Resources Wales (Friday)