AFTER proposals for an M4 relief road were scrapped, a plan was set out to reduce congestion on the often-congested motorway around Newport.

The South East Wales Transport Commission, led by Lord Terry Burns, published its full report recommending alternatives to the relief road project in November 2020.

The commission's proposals focused on the need for “substantial improvement to the city's current public transport network”.

These included 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, as well as improving cycling and walking routes across the region.

Speaking in the Senedd, first minister Mark Drakeford said ongoing work to make the railways the backbone of an improved public transport system would free up the motorway for road haulage firms.

READ MORE: New PM Rishi Sunak should forget about an M4 Newport relief road, says Mark Drakeford.

“We are pressing ahead with the proposals of the Burns commission—a series of practical actions that can be taken to address congestion at the M4,” he said.

“We will complete the dualling of the Heads of the Valleys road, which will mean that heavy traffic coming from the Midlands will be able to go directly to south-west Wales without having to come down and pass through Newport.”

Also among the recommendations was to scrap the old variable speed limit on the M4 around the Brynglas Tunnels, replacing it with a fixed 50mph limit from junction 24 for the Coldra to junction 28 for Tredegar Park.

South Wales Argus: M4 average speed cameras in Newport.M4 average speed cameras in Newport. (Image: Huw Evans Picture Agency)

These were brought in and ‘went live’ from March 15 last year, although frequent enquiries from the Argus throughout 2021 and 2022 found they were not yet active.

In fact, the cameras were only switched on for the first time this week.

In January, Transport for Wales’ Burns Delivery Unit – which was set up to implement the commission’s recommendations – set out four objectives for 2022.

These were:

  • Higher quality bus and cycling routes between Cardiff and Newport;
  • Upgrading bus, cycling and walking corridors in Newport City Centre;
  • Active travel development support;
  • Upgrade access to Severn Tunnel Junction for new bus services.

South Wales Argus: Proposals to transform a stretch of the A48 between Newport and Cardiff by adding bus and cycle lanes. (Image: Welsh Government)Proposals to transform a stretch of the A48 between Newport and Cardiff by adding bus and cycle lanes. (Image: Welsh Government) (Image: Welsh Government)

The first of these objectives saw the announcement of plans to turn lanes on the A48 between Newport and Cardiff into bus lanes and cycle paths in a bid to improve active travel options between the two cities.

The second of the plans is the most visible to those in Newport city centre, as the plans included the ongoing work at Newport station.

Work on the new bridge – which will replace the old underpass in connecting Devon Place to Queensway – is said to be “progressing well”, with Newport council saying in August that it expects the bridge to be open “before the end of 2022”.

South Wales Argus: An artist's impression of the works at Newport Station.An artist's impression of the works at Newport Station. (Image: Transport for Wales)

The bridge will replace the old underpass that used to connect the two streets, while work is also ongoing to improve access for buses at the station.

This week, one of the recommendations of the third objective came to light in Newport, with the opening of a bike storage hub in the city centre.

“For those of us who choose to cycle or who might cycle, we need to be given that choice of somewhere safe to leave our bikes,” said Mark Seymour at the opening of the Newport Cycle Hub.

South Wales Argus: Mark Seymour at the Newport Cycle Hub.Mark Seymour at the Newport Cycle Hub. (Image: Newsquest)

Earlier this year – in line with the fourth objective – a consultation was launched on proposals to increase access to the Severn Tunnel Junction, which included a slip road from the M48.

Plans were also submitted separately for a new park and ride facility at the station as part of the Cardiff Capital Region City Deal’s Metro Plus scheme.

However, work on one of the four planned new railway stations – Cardiff Parkway Station in St Mellons – has now been delayed after the Welsh Government called in the project.

Cardiff Council leader Huw Thomas recently expressed his frustration at the delay – as now Welsh ministers will review and determine the application for the £120 million mainline station instead of Cardiff Council’s planning committee.

“We see it as a keystone of the M4 corridor work across to Newport as well and that is really important for Cardiff because if we can decompress the M4, it makes access to the city better as well,” he said when talking about the proposed station.

South Wales Argus: An artist's impression of the proposed Cardiff Parkway Station. (Image: Wilkinson Eyre).An artist's impression of the proposed Cardiff Parkway Station. (Image: Wilkinson Eyre).

In response to the Welsh Government calling in the project, South Wales East MS and Welsh Conservative shadow minister for transport, Natasha Asghar, said: “How long can this continue? Wales is crying out for better infrastructure only for the Labour government to hold our country back.

“The programme now rests on the recommendation of the planning inspector, which Labour ministers have been known to ignore when it suits them.”

The Argus asked Transport for Wales for an update on the progress the projects set out by the Burns Delivery Unit, however we were told they would not give an update before their annual report is published in early 2023.

A Welsh Conservatives spokesperson said: “Rather than build the M4 relief road, the first minister took the unilateral decision to waste £157 million only to reject the findings of the independent inquiry.

“This is money that could have been used to invest in our public transport.

“On top of this, Labour have seen fit to waste £30 million on a cycle path between Cardiff and Newport, narrowing the lanes and restricting traffic flow.

“As a result of Labour’s failings, our rail service suffers from numerous delays and cancellations, grinding our country to a halt.

“People have no confidence in our public transport system, and quite rightly with the number of bus journeys having fallen in Wales even before the pandemic hit.

“What Wales needs is a government willing to invest in our future, build the M4 relief road and get Wales moving.”

In response to Welsh Conservative calls for a U-turn on the relief road, Mr Drakeford said in the Senedd: “The building of the M4 relief road was a prominent promise that the Welsh Conservative Party made, and your party failed to win a single seat along the whole length of the M4 in south Wales.

“So, if you believe that your case is a sound one, you can continue to put it to people in Wales, and you'll continue to get the same answer.”

He later clarified that the Conservatives did win one constituency seat along the M4 corridor in 2021.