THE predicted £1.4 billion cost of the planned M4 relief road “is an issue”, first minister Carwyn Jones has said.

Mr Jones was speaking after finance secretary Mark Drakeford, who is so far the only candidate for new first minister, said last week a cheaper version of the scheme would be "attractive".

Speaking in response to a question on the long-awaited project by South Wales East AM Mohammad Asghar in the Assembly, Mr Jones said: "He (Mr Drakeford) was saying quite properly that cost is clearly an issue.

"Of course, it is.

"He would not be acting as cabinet secretary for finance if he didn't point that out, and that is an issue, but not the only issue, of course, that will need to be considered."

A public inquiry is expected to present its recommendations in the summer.

Mr Jones added: "What we do know is that the congestion will not improve in the Brynglas Tunnels - that much is, to me, obvious. But I have to keep an open mind on which route should be taken forward because I will be the person taking the decision.

"And, so, when the inspector's report arrives on my desk, that, and any other relevant considerations will form part of my thinking."

In his question Conservative AM Mr Asghar said: "Any plan to secure the maximum economic benefit from the Cardiff capital region must include a relief road for the M4.

"I have been contacted by a number of business owners who have expressed their dismay that the cabinet secretary for finance, and your potential successor, recently appeared to pour cold water on the proposed black route.

"As one business owner said 'This is not a picture of Wales open for business'."

The Welsh Government's preferred option for the scheme, the so-called black route, would involve a new 15-mile stretch of motorway between Magor and Castleton, cutting through Newport Docks and part of the Gwent Levels.

Alternatives considered by the inquiry include the so-called blue route, which would involve converting the Southern Distributor Road into a dual carriageway.

Mr Jones is due to stand down as first minister and leader of Welsh Labour in the autumn, with a replacement to be in place by the end of the year.