A WELSH Government minister has said they would be open to a local referendum on the M4 relief road should there be a call for it.

Minister for housing and local government Julie James said she was "all in favour" of Newport residents having a say when asked in the Senedd about the possibility of a referendum on the issue by Laura Anne Jones, MS for South Wales East.

It comes after, earlier this month, Newport council approved a motion which called on the Welsh Government to carefully consider any future calls for a regional referendum on the M4 relief road in light of the Future Generations Act, which requires public bodies to consider the long-term impacts of their decisions.

"If there is a call for a local referendum, then we're certainly happy to work with Newport council to see how that might be accomplished," said the minister. "I'm all in favour of local people having a large say in what happens in their region or area."


Ms James added the South East Wales Transport Commission was "very well advanced" in looking at alternatives to the relief road, which she described as "a very ecologically damaging set of concrete across protected Gwent levels."

"These things are never straightforward, and there is a range of opinions on all sides," said Ms James. "I'm very aware that some people in Newport want to build the M4, but I'm also very aware that a lot of people don't want to build the M4 and wish to protect the natural environment. That's why the commission was put in place.

"It's not just the people who live in Newport county, but all the people who live around it, and, indeed, further on in Wales, that are impacted by that, hence the need for the strategic approach to it."

First minister Mark Drakeford cancelled the project in June 2019, going against the recommendations put forward by a planning inspector following a lengthy consultation and public inquiry.

The estimated cost of the project was £1.4 billion at the time Mr Drakeford scrapped the plans.

Conservative Senedd candidate for Newport West Michael Enea, a long-time supporter of the relief road project, called Ms James' comments "encouraging", and called on Newport City Council leader Cllr Jane Mudd "to begin discussions as soon as possible to get the ball rolling".

"It’s now over to the first minister, Mark Drakeford," he said. "Will he back his own minister's comments and back a regional referendum for Newport?”

The South East Wales Transport Commission recommended making improvements to public transport as the best way to ease congestion on the M4.

But UK government ministers, including transport secretary Grant Shapps, have commented on the need to "fix" traffic issues on the M4, following the publication of Sir Peter Hendy’s interim report into transport connectivity across the UK on Wednesday.

However, the Welsh Government has responsibility for transport in Wales.

Secretary of state for Wales Simon Hart said: “Thousands of people travel between England and Wales every day so it is vital that we better connect communities in north, mid and south Wales with the rest of the UK.

“As we build back better from the Covid-19 pandemic, transport infrastructure projects like these will boost the UK economy and I look forward to seeing the progress of this work and the final report."

Editor's note: This article has been amended to clarify the detail of the M4 relief road referendum motion which was passed by Newport City Council.