A fresh public consultation looking at how to tackle congestion on the M4 is being welcomed by Gwent drivers, businesses and politicians. JESSICA BEST and ALISON SANDERS report.

THE Welsh Government has launched a 13-week public consultation on how to improve traffic flow on the M4 between Castleton and Magor, including proposals to widen the 13-mile stretch and build two new tunnels at Brynglas.

The new consultation was welcomed by people across Gwent yesterday, but concerns were raised about serious disruption if and when work is carried out.

David Barnes, owner of DB Public Relations, in Gold Tops, Newport, travels to and from the city along the M4 every week day.

Mr Barnes, who is also chairman of the City of Newport Business Club, said: “The catastrophic fire in the Brynglas Tunnels and the spate of roadclosing accidents on the M4 in recent years, is a stark wakeup call and reminder of how fragile communication links are in this part of Wales. Close the M4 and to all intents and purposes, South Wales shuts down.

“I’m in favour of the creation of the M4 relief road to the south of the city, sweeping across the docks on a bridge which could double as an Usk barrage.The economic benefits to the city and the region, in terms of potential investment and corresponding job creation, are immeasurable.”

But Andrew Barley, operations manager from Newport’s Dragon Taxis, preferred the idea of widening the M4 to four lanes and creating newtunnels at Brynglas.

He said: “When there’s an incident anywhere near the Brynglas Tunnels and Malpas Road, it grinds to a halt. We spend a lot of time stuck in traffic.”

But Mr Barley said he was concerned about the effect such major works – which would take years – would have on the region.

Gavin Watkins, transport manager at Rogerstone hauliers Freight Movement Ltd, said: “Widening it would improve things for our point of view. The only problem is what will happen in the interim.”

Robert Carew-Chaston, consultant with Newport-based Hutchings and Thomas chartered surveyors, said he was a “firm supporter” of the southern motorway link, as long as there were connections both to the east and west to Newport.

He said: “I’m very aware of potential investors’ and occupiers’ reticence to look at Newport sites to the west of the Brynglas Tunnels for the very reason that they are concerned with the consequences of an incident blocking the tunnels and the corresponding delays and the potential negative effects on their business.”

Andrew Howard, head of road safety with the AA, said this stretch of the M4 had reached its capacity, and that while future engineering work may be major and expensive, it was “critical” to improving access to Wales.

To give your views, visit m4cem.com

‘Bold action’ needed - MP

GWENT politicians also welcomed the new consultation yesterday.

South Wales East AM William Graham said it was “vital for the future economic development of our region”.

But he also expressed concerns over the idea of new tunnels at Brynglas, saying it would involve building 17 overbridges, could impact on 200-300 homes and business, and require more than seven years of disruption.

“However, these are vital and necessary improvements to the M4,” he added.

Newport West MP Paul Flynn said “bold action”

was needed if the region wanted a future where traffic flowed freely along the M4.

Jessica Morden, MP for Newport East, said she welcomed the consultation, and urged people to have their say, while Newport West AM Rosemary Butler said she was interested in proposals to build new tunnels at Brynglas, and a new dual carriageway to the south of Newport.

Newport East AM John Griffiths said it was important for local people to use the consultation to shape the solution to the M4 problem, while South Wales East AM Lindsay Whittle said investment projects of this type could bring about “the muchneeded boost for the Welsh economy that we have been calling for.”

The four main options

THE Welsh Government’s consultation to improve congestion, safety and pollution on a 13-mile stretch of the M4 between Castleton and Magor contains suggestions including four major highways projects, investment in public transport, junction improvements and the promotion of alternative routes.

It is hoped the proposed improvements will make it easier and safer for people to access their homes and workplaces and will encourage “long-term prosperity” in the region.

It is also hoped they will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

People across Gwent can give their views on the proposals between nowand June 6, including the four major highways projects, which are designed to increase highway capacity and improve safety along the M4 corridor.

The four options are:

● Option A: An “additional high-quality road” to the south of Newport. This new dual carriageway, which would cost £830million, would be designed to increase the capacity of Newport’s road network, and relieve traffic on the M4.

The Welsh Government said the route aimed to minimise negative effects on the environment and local communities, and could be built in phases.

● Option B: Improvements to the Southern Distributor Road (SDR), with improvements to roundabouts and signal controls at all junctions.

This would help the flow of traffic along the SDR.

It would cost an estimated £45million

● Option C: Separated junction improvements on the SDR. This could include the development of a flyover so junctions do not disrupt the traffic flow, and offer an alternative route to the M4.

Some properties would need to be demolished, and the scheme would cost £300million

● Option D: Widening the M4 between Junctions 24 and 29 to create a four-lane motorway in each direction.

This would include an additional tunnel at Brynglas, and demolition of some existing properties could be necessary. It would cost £550million.

EDITORIAL COMMENT: M4 inaction already costly

THE debate over how to ease congestion on the M4 around Newport seems to have been going on forever.

Plans for a six-lane relief road stretching from Magor to Castleton were first mooted 21 years ago, before being scrapped in 2009 because of escalating costs.

Now, the Welsh Government has launched a consultation with four proposed options for the 13 miles of the M4 through Newport.

The options are: a new dual carriageway to the south of the city; improvements to the existing Southern Distributor Road; a flyover from the SDR to the motorway; and – most radical of all – making the M4 between junctions 24 and 29 a fourlane motorway, with two new tunnels bored at Brynglas.

The latter option would cost in excess of £500million and result in 15 years of roadworks.

What the people of Newport will make of the proposals remains to be seen.

Early indications from businesses in the city seem to suggest a widening of the motorway and the creation of new tunnels has some support.

What is clear is that doing nothing is not an option.

The M4 around Newport reached capacity some years ago.

As well as being vitally important for the Welsh economy, it is also used as a bypass by many motorists in the city. And as everyone in Newport knows, when there is an accident or some other incident on the M4 between the Coldra and Tredegar Park, it cripples the city’s transport network for hours.

Our concern with the proposals is that none of them wholly solves Newport’s traffic problems.

Each is cheaper than the £1bn estimated cost of the M4 relief road. But we fear that choosing any of them would end up being a sticking-plaster, rather than a long-term answer.

If we were being cynical, we might suggest the consultation is a smokescreen behind which plans for a relief road might be resurrected.

The one certainty is that any solution will take time the economy of South Wales cannot afford.

Every closure of the motorway around Newport means more days when South Wales appears to be closed for businesses.

And every year that passes without a solution being found makes persuading companies to invest in this area more difficult.


● May 1991: Tackling congestion on the M4 through Gwent began with the announcement of a new motorway between Magor and Castleton.

● June 1991: Gwent County Council said work on the road was expected to begin in 2000.

● June 1993: Plans for the £300m stretch were unveiled, but environmentalists expressed fears that Magor Reserve would be “swallowed up”.

● September 1993: Chancellor Kenneth Clarke, left, said the scheme would be paid for by the public sector, which would charge motorists using the road.

● January 1994: Formation of CALM, Campaign Against the Levels Motorways, an alliance of 27 organisations opposing the road.

● December 2001: Announcement delayed until next year.

● March 2002: Transport minister Sue Essex shelved the plans.

● November 2004: The Argus exclusively revealed that the M4 relief road was back on track.

● April 2006: New route unveiled, but opponents said damage to environment would not be significantly reduced.

● August 2007. A lorry driver died in a crash. M4 closed both ways through Newport, causing gridlock across South Wales.

● September 2007: A devastating crash in which five people died again brought gridlock to South Wales. The Argus also reported a public inquiry was unlikely to take place until 2009 and Ieuan Wyn Jones gave possible opening date of 2013.

● August 2008: South East Wales Transport Alliance pushed for construction to start sooner rather than later. Construction work expected to begin in 2010.

● April 2009: Newport East AM John Griffiths believed budget cuts and recession would lead to the relief road being shelved.

● July 2009: The relief road is axed.

● July 2011: The issue of a relief road is raised again after a lorry fire in the Brynglas Tunnels shut the main artery into Gwent for four days.