PROPOSALS for an M4 relief road around Newport were scrapped yesterday. Ailsa Chalk and Jane Helmich report.

FOR almost 20 years, the proposed M4 relief road has divided opinion - the announcement that the brakes were being applied to the project had a similarly polarising effect.

The £1billion M4 relief road was scrapped yesterday after ministers admitted economic costs made the scheme “prohibitive.”

The announcement came as economy and transport minister Ieuan Wyn Jones launched the Assembly’s National Transport Plan, which aims to provide modern and sustainable transport for Wales.

Proposals for a six-lane relief road, which would stretch from Magor to Castleton, were first mooted in 1991.

The total cost for the scheme in 1998 was given as £340million, but since then the amount of finance needed has dramatically increased to around £1billion.

Mr Jones said the scheme has become unaffordable and making the road sustainable would involve tolling both the original M4 and the relief road, which would be “prohibitive.”

He said: “Tolling of the new M4 alone would not raise the funds necessary for the scheme, and tolling both roads, in addition to the toll on the Severn crossings, would damage the attractiveness of South Wales for investment.”

The Assembly now plans to implement a range of alternatives to ease congestion on the Newport stretch of the motorway, including park and ride facilities at Llanwern, Severn Tunnel junction and Coedkernew, as well as improving the motorway junctions.

Mr Jones said work will also be carried out to make an existing dual carriageway on the Corus site, fit for public use.

Traffic congestion, especially when incidents have closed all or part of the Newport stretch, has plagued the city for years causing problems for businesses and residents.

But while motorists would have been forking out for the new road through tolls, the wildlife haven of the Gwent Levels would also have paid a heavy price, said environmentalists.

While conservationists were celebrating yesterday's news others, such as Newport council leader Matthew Evans, were disappointed and angry.

As recently as the beginning of this month, CALM (Campaign Against Levels Motorway) wrote to Ieuan Wyn Jones to plead for the Gwent Levels to be saved from tarmac forever.

Sorrel Jones, secretary of CALM and Gwent Wildlife Trust conservation officer, was shocked but delighted that their appeal had been answered.

"We have been working for this for so long, I can't really believe it's true. This is wonderful.

"I really hope this is an indication of the future for all of Wales for sustainable transport, a sign they are going to think about public transport, rail and cycling and all the other measures needed to sort out transport problems in a sustainable way."

James Byrne, chairman of the CALM Alliance said that in a time of global recession, global warming and increasing loss of wildlife, they were delighted the road had been scrapped.

“We believe that better use of existing road capacity and investing in improved public transport in South East Wales can achieve as much, or more at a much lower cost to the environment and Welsh tax payers.”

He added that the motorway had cast a dark shadow for decades over the wildlife-rich Gwent Levels and today's landmark announcement was an excellent result for the environment and tax payers.

Neil Crumpton, Friends of the Earth Cymru campaigner, said the scrapping of the "unaffordable and traffic-generating" motorway was vital to tackle climate change and cut carbon emissions.

He said it provided a huge opportunity for the Assembly to resolve the M4's increasing safety and maintenance problems by investing in more cost-effective and less damaging measures along the motorway and other local routes.