NEW proposals to invest in the region's public transport network could lead to a regeneration of Newport, bringing job opportunities and residents back to the heart of the city.

Lord Terry Burns, the chairman of the South East Wales Transport Commission, said the city centre could flourish if ministers invested in better rail, bus and active transport services.

The commission today published its final report, recommending alternatives to the now-abandoned M4 relief road project.

FULL STORY: Commission plan for Newport public transport investment

What started out as a motorway improvement project soon snowballed into a wider, more ambitious investigation, Lord Burns told the Argus.

"Problems on the road are symptomatic of quite a lot of things," said, referring to the regular congestion on the M4 around the city. "[Newport] is in danger of being bypassed…and it’s not really getting the benefits from the quite impressive changes that are taking place on that whole corridor between Bristol and Cardiff.

"It needed something that was much bigger and more comprehensive if one was going to both ease the pressures on the road, but also make Newport a much better place to live, in terms of cleaner air and better access to transport and jobs."

The commission's proposals include building four new railway stations in and around Newport, and integrating timetables with an expanded bus service that will benefit commuters and visitors to the city centre.

Lord Burns said there was scope for substantial improvement to the city's current public transport network.

"The main thing we found was that of those people who were using the M4… the alternatives were really very poor in terms of convenience, in terms of how long it would take, in terms of reliability, and in terms of cost," he said. "People are using the car because they don’t really have any alternatives."

Key to the commission's report is the wish to connect people to job opportunities, without needing to own a car.

"It’s not a pro-car and anti-car issue, this is a question of saying: ‘can you provide people with different ways in which they can complete these journeys?’" Lord Burns said, adding: "I think we were aiming here at a much wider sense of giving people access to those things that they would like a share in, even if they don’t own a car. At the moment, I’m afraid for a lot of people in Newport it’s a bit restricted. It’s about a broader sense of fairness to their lives and the opportunities."

The commission said better planning policies would mean new housing and office developments were located near public transport hubs, rather than the M4. This in turn could boost the redevelopment of Newport city centre as place to work and live, Lord Burns said.

"My personal view, and that of the commission, is that we’d like to see a more vibrant and more evident city centre – so that there were more offices in the city centre, more jobs in the city centre," he said. "That should be possible. The city centre can’t thrive if people can’t get into it, and at the moment things have been designed to put those jobs where – at the time they were put there – it was easiest to access them from the motorway."

With such dramatic changes and construction projects forming the commission's proposals, Lord Burns said he was confident disruption and costs could be minimised – thanks largely to the fact the main railway work would happen on the existing South Wales Main Line, rather than a brand-new route.

"What is the challenge is to achieve this requires the cooperation and coordination of bringing together a lot of groups of people," he said, adding: "I think there’s a lot of will to take this on. I’m quite optimistic we can get a lot of support for this. The challenge, then, is to get people together in order to make it happen."