9:15am Friday 6th July 2012
By David Deans
NEWPORT City Council has backed proposals for a new £830 million road to ease congestion on the M4.
The council said a new road south of Newport would make the road network more resilient to incidents on the M4, but it opposed a proposed new Brynglas tunnel or flyovers on the Southern Distributor Road.
It said that an estimated completion date of the new road – 2031 – was not acceptable.
The new road could be cheaper than the previously proposed £1 billion M4 relief road, shelved by the Welsh Government in 2009, and would not be a motorway.
There were many calls last year for the scheme to be resurrected after a lorry fire in the Brynglas tunnels caused widespread congestion across Gwent.
Newport council’s comments were made in the authority’s official response to the Welsh Government consultation on four proposed measures to improve the motorway which closes today.
The new dual carriageway – known as option A – would run from junction 29 of the M4 to junction 23 for the M48.
Under the proposal the route would run to the south of Newport – although along a different line from the shelved M4 relief road.
“We see this option as providing the required resilience that South Wales needs for the M4 corridor and for Newport and its residents that are so frequently impacted upon during times of incident,” the response said.
The response, approved by infrastructure cabinet member Ken Critchley, says the road would probably be built in phases, with estimated completion in 2031.
Newport council said a proposal for a new tunnel and widening the M4 to four lanes would not provide “any network resilience”.
“If a similar incident to those that necessitated the closure of the M4 in the past 48 months occurred on a widened M4 with a new tunnel, the whole of the motorway in that area would still have to be closed,” the response said.
It also opposed the compulsory purchase of properties along the M4 corridor, which the response said would “have a detrimental effect on many families”.
Meanwhile, motorway widening and tunnel construction would have a significant impact on traffic in Newport during construction, the council argued, while widening the M4 would decrease air quality.
Plans for junction improvements on the A48 Southern Distributor Road, known as option B, would not “significantly improve resilience” while the prioritisation of east-west traffic would put extra pressure on the local road network, the paper said.
Option C – a plan that would effectively turn the SDR into an expressway with flyovers – was also opposed by the council.
The paper said flyovers would “cut off existing communities and create a physical barrier between them”.
Homes would also have to be compulsorily purchased for that proposal.
Eco-campaigners strongly opposed
BUILDING a new road south of Newport that will cross the Gwent Levels would be “shooting yourself in the foot”, according to a campaigner.
An alliance of organisations and individuals dubbed CALM has reformed to oppose the road that Newport council has chosen to back, with the road crossing nationally and European-protected conservation areas.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Cymru, Gwent Wildlife Trust and Friends of the Earth Cymru and the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales are among those in the group.
Sorrel Jones, conservation officer with Gwent Wildlife Trust, said: “It’s an amazing landscape.
“It provides water for agriculture, lots of education work is done for children on the Levels.
It’s a place where people go out and enjoy themselves.
“Option A is shooting yourself in the foot, environmentally.”
She said the road would probably come very close to Bearcroft Common and the Solutia Gwent Wildlife Trust reserves: “People come to our reserves to be close to nature, not cars.”
According to Welsh Government documents the road would cross the nationally protected Gwent Levels site of special scientific interest (SSSI) and the river Usk, which is both an SSSI and a European special area of conservation.
‘So glad if homes are saved’
A CAMPAIGNER who opposes the proposal to build another tunnel on the M4 said she was glad of the support from Newport council.
Jo Sweeney, who lives in Brynglas, where it is expected many homes would have to be compulsorily purchased, said: “It sends a strong message to the Welsh Government.”
More than 100 people turned out for a meeting to discuss opposition to the proposal earlier this year.
EDITORIAL COMMENT: New road a hot potato
IT SHOULD come as no surprise that Newport council has backed plans for a new road to the south of the city in its response to the Welsh Government’s consultation on easing congestion on the M4.
Firstly, despite the change of political leadership at the council it is essentially the same response given by the city’s former leader in March.
Secondly, backing other options – particularly a new tunnel and widening of the M4 at Brynglas – would have brought the council into opposition with a significant number of residents.
The option supported by the council is, at £830 million, the most expensive of the four options being considered by the Welsh Government. And it would not be ready until 2031 – an unacceptable amount of time, according to the council.
It is also the one most like the proposed M4 relief road, scrapped in 2009 18 years after it was first mooted and long the preferred option of the city council.
The council’s choice from the four options offered by the Welsh Government is not without its difficulties.
The route of the proposed newroad, which would be a dual carriageway rather than a motorway, crosses the Gwent Levels and is fiercely opposed by conservationists.
As we said when this consultation began in March, the only option that cannot be chosen is doing nothing.
The M4 around Newport is already beyond capacity and the city’s economy is damaged every time there is a problem on the road.
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