THE scrapping of the M4 relief road does not mean problems with congestion around Newport are "back to square one”, a Welsh Government minister has claimed.

Earlier this month first minister Mark Drakeford announced the scheme, which had been in the pipeline since 2013 and cost the Welsh taxpayer £114 million, had been binned. At the same time he announced a new expert commission was being set up to look at alternative solutions to congestion problems around Newport - and would present its first report within six months.

And, speaking in the Assembly on Tuesday, economy and transport minister Ken Skates denied the scrapping of the relief road meant it was "back to square one" on the issue.


“It's about a rapid piece of work by an expert commission that will bring forward practical proposals to resolve some of the issues that are faced by the residents of Newport in 2019 and 2020 - not many years from now when a road might eventually have been constructed and opened for traffic,” he said.

“I can assure members that we are grasping the can right now and we will crush it far earlier than the black route would've dealt with it.”

South Wales Argus:

(Ken Skates)

Mr Skates also said the £114 million already spend on the project "will not be wasted", with work carried out since the project was first proposed in 2013 to inform the work of the new commission.

"I can assure all members that we recognise that this challenge has to be addressed," he said. "'Do nothing' is simply not an option.

"The question for us is how we are able to respond, packaging some of the alternatives in a way that will reduce or eliminate congestion.

"I believe that we can achieve a reduction in congestion on the M4 through Newport in a way that offers value for money and minimises cost to the public purse."

But Labour Newport West AM Jayne Bryant, who was in favour of the relief road, said the current stretch of the motorway “does not meet modern demands”.

“I will be there every step of the way, scrutinising and ensuring that the views of people who live in Newport are upmost in the commission’s work," she said.

“It is crucial that all the money that was put aside must be spent on solutions for exactly that - to tackle this specific issue around Newport. The money must not be filtered away on projects across the country.”

South Wales Argus:

(Jayne Bryant)

Conservative South Wales East AM Mohammad Asghar – also a supporter of the relief road – said the problem of congestion had “never been properly addressed”.

“The M4 is Wales's strategic gateway to the rest of the UK and Europe, but we are serviced by sub-standard dual carriageway that fails to meet modern motorway standards,” he said.

But Newport East AM John Griffiths - who opposed the scheme - said he believed the relief road would have been "yesterday's solution to the problems of today and tomorrow". The Labour AM said he would like to see the funding which would have been used for the new stretch of motorway to go into non-car-based methods of transport, such as restoring the rail link between Newport and Ebbw Vale - which the Welsh Government has said it will do by 2021.

Blaenau Gwent's Alun Davies also opposed the project, and said problems with congestion were the result of far more than a poor roads system.

"I understand and I do agree that the current M4 is no longer fit for purpose," said the Labour AM. "But then again neither is the rail infrastructure in the area either, and neither is the trunk road network and neither is the public transport system serving communities in the south east or enabling people to move through the area as part of a longer journey.

"So, this certainly requires addressing these particular issues but in a far wider and bigger way."

South Wales Argus:

(Alun Davies)

South Wales East AM Delyth Jewell announced Plaid Cymru has put together its own working group to look at solutions to congestion on the M4, and appealed for its findings to be taken into account by the new commission.

And the Brexit Party's Mark Reckless, who also represents South Wales East, added his voice to those criticising the Welsh Government for failing to have a 'plan B' ready to put into action immediately.

"Surely, a sensible government would have contingency plans?" he said.

Conservative AM Russell George said the establishment of the commission amounted to "kicking the can down the road yet again".

"What's to say, of course, that at the end of that process, the first minister will not just run a coach and horses through (commission chairman) Lord Burns's recommendations, like he has done with rejecting the detailed conclusions of the report of the independent public inspector?" he said.

And Plaid Cymru's Rhun ap Iorwerth said the past eight years had been "wasted".

Speaking at the end of the debate, Mr Skates said the £1 billion in borrowing the Welsh Government had planned to use for the relief road would be used "first and foremost to resolve that specific congestion point in Newport".

"No easy or uncontested answers exist with regard to the congestion that has plagued the M4 around Newport," he said. "But we are committed to taking a collaborative approach to finding innovative, affordable and, probably most importantly of all, sustainable solutions in the shortest possible timescales. I do genuinely look forward to working with others to achieve that ambition."

He also batted off claims the Labour-led Welsh Government had broken a manifesto commitment to build the road, saying: "The manifesto that we drew up was, of course, drawn up in the circumstances that were apparent at that moment in time, based on the evidence that was available to us."