The M4 relief road was a motorway, south of the city of Newport, South Wales, proposed to relieve congestion on the M4 motorway.

M4 relief road
M4 Motorway - Brynglas tunnels, western portals 2079471 3c135e6c.jpg
The Brynglas Tunnels near Newport, affected by high peak time congestion
LocationNewport, Wales
ProposerWelsh Government
WebsiteOfficial website
StatusRejected
TypeMotorway extension
Cost estimate (low)£1.4 billion
StakeholdersDfT
ORR
Traffic Wales
Minister for Transport
SupportersCBI[1]
IoD[2]
Carwyn Jones AM (Bridgend)[3]
Jayne Bryant AM (Newport West)[4]
Brexit Party[5]
UKIP[6]
OpponentsFuture Generations Commissioner for Wales[7]
Woodland Trust[8]
RSPB[9]
Plaid Cymru[10]
John Griffiths AM (Newport East)[11]
Wales Green Party[12]
Lib Dems[13]

Originally proposed by the Welsh Office in 1991,[14] but were not pursued by the Conservative Major Government. Following devolution in 1999 the project was again drawn up by Welsh Government economic and transport minister Andrew Davies in 2004[15] but this was withdrawn in 2009 when the cost estimates had risen by £660m, to a total of £1 billion.[16]

In April 2013, the Conservative-led coalition offered the Welsh Government a £830m interest-payable loan for the construction of the road.[17] In July 2014 Welsh Transport Minister Edwina Hart stated that, despite political opposition, the scheme would go ahead.[18]

Demand for investment grew in 2017 following a manifesto pledge by Theresa May which removed the Severn road tolls. The increased road use led to vehicle use increasing of 20% over the M4 bridge and 7% of traffic at the tunnels, increasing the already considerable congestion in Newport.[19]

First Minister of Wales Carwyn Jones (a supporter of the road) stepped down in 2018,[20] leaving the decision to his successor, Mark Drakeford. Drakeford was required to delay his decision due to the 2019 Newport West by-election purdah.[21]

On 4 June 2019 Drakeford announced that the scheme would not proceed on the basis of escalating costs now at £1.4bn.[22] 2018 estimates had however already shown that the £1.4bn figure would have been far higher once VAT costs and overspending was accounted for.[17] Drakeford further attributed the decision to the global climate crisis and local "environmental impacts" to the Gwent Levels.[22]

BackgroundEdit

 
The Brynglas Tunnels on the existing M4, which would be bypassed by a new road

A second South Wales motorway was first discussed in the late 1980s, sited to the south of Newport running 14 miles (23 km) parallel to the existing M4 motorway from junction 23A at Magor, to junction 29 at Castleton, thus avoiding the need to widen the Brynglas Tunnels.[23] The tunnels can no longer be expanded or relocated due to geological issues in the area, which has meant subsidence to a number of houses above the tunnels since construction took place.[24]

The concept behind the motorway was first based on the M6 Toll motorway, a relief road built to reduce traffic on the M6 motorway around Birmingham.[25]

The existing motorway runs through the Brynglas Tunnels north of Newport city centre.[25] Like many stretches of motorway, it does not conform to current motorway standards: it lacks continuous hard shoulders due to previous widening, has closely spaced junctions and narrows to a restricted two-lane section through the Brynglas Tunnels, where heavy congestion occurs at peak hours.

A variable speed limit is in place between junctions 24 and 28. M4 slip roads at Junction 25 (Caerleon Road) are diverted to reduce traffic through the tunnels. M4 Westbound traffic joining at Junction 25 is diverted via Junction 25A/A4042 (Heidenheim Drive)/A4051 (Malpas Road) to Junction 26. Similarly eastbound traffic wishing to exit at Junction 25 is diverted from Junction 26 via the A4051/A4042/Junction 25A. This adds to congestion on Malpas Road and other local roads near Newport city centre at peak times.

According to the Welsh Government, traffic data shows that the motorway is at peak times operating at nearly "double its vehicle capacity".[26]

ProposalsEdit

1991 proposalEdit

An M4 relief road between Magor and Castleton was first proposed by the Welsh Office in 1991, but there was little progress on the scheme in the following years.[27]

Plans for the New M4 were announced on 3 March 2006 as part of a raft of measures to improve road transport in Wales. The road would have cost between GB£350 million (later rising by £660m to an estimated £1 billion),[16] and financed by a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) with the Welsh Assembly.[28] It was planned to be the United Kingdom's second full toll-paying motorway, after the M6 Toll.

Proposals in 2004 for the road to be tolled were met with scepticism. Several experts suggested that a new toll road would be "a white elephant for 20 hours a day", due to the greatly variable traffic levels through the Brynglas Tunnels. Outside peak hours, the tunnels would still have been the preferable option to taking a toll road for most people.[25] Liberal Democrat spokesperson Jenny Randerson raised concerns about whether a toll would have been necessary on the road, as the Severn Bridge, less than 10 miles (16 km) to the east, also charges a toll to cross it and compared the plan to a "double tax on Wales". The Road Haulage Association said that an additional toll was "almost rubbing salt into the wound".[25]

On 15 July 2009, the Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones announced that the plans for the M4 relief were to be dropped and replaced by a package of measures to improve the flow of traffic.[29] In November 2009, Dr. Anthony Beresford of the Business School at Cardiff University called for the decision to cancel the road to be overturned.[30]

2011 proposalEdit

 
The River Usk at Newport Docks, close to where the new road would cross the river. The distant building with the tall chimney is Uskmouth Power Station.

In December 2011, the Welsh Government entered into discussions with the incoming UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne to discuss financial assistance for the road project.[31]

In February 2012 related work started on a dual-carriageway road connecting Newport's southern distributor road to junction 23A of the M4 using part of the proposed route of the M4 relief road and a former access road to the Llanwern steelworks.[32]

A public consultation exercise on options for improving the capacity of the M4 corridor around Newport opened on 5 March 2012.[33] The review was published in August 2014,[34] and a multiple potential routes were presented. However opponents of the road criticised the report for excluding the effects of any potential growth in traffic.[35] The report assumed the new road would see no growth in vehicle use, a finding which is contrary to induced demand studies which show road expansion leads to significant increases in vehicle use.[35] It was also criticised for focussing on the economic impacts over the negative consequences for the environment and public transport use.[35]

On 2 April 2013 it was reported that the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne was likely to give support to the scheme in the Autumn Statement and various newspapers reporting that it would be tolled. The Welsh Government countered, saying that it had no plans for tolling.[36] Osborne also denied any plans for tolling.[37] A consultation on the proposed plan ran from 23 September to 16 December 2013.[38][39]

In April 2013, the Conservative coalition formalised an agreement with the Welsh Government for a £830m interest-payable loan for the construction of the road at 2011 costs.[17]

2014Edit

On 16 July 2014, Wales Transport Minister Edwina Hart said that the preferred "black route" south of Newport between Junctions 23 and 29, including a new crossing of the River Usk, would go ahead despite political opposition. She said that it would boost the economy, ease traffic congestion and improve road capacity. The scheme would be the largest capital investment programme ever undertaken by the Welsh Government and was hoped that it would be finished by 2022.[40]

In 2017, following a manifesto pledge by Theresa May at the 2017 General Election, Highways England removed road tolls on the Severn Bridges. This decision was assessed as causing an increase in traffic of 20% over the M4 bridge and 7% of traffic at the tunnels, increasing the already considerable congestion in Newport throughout 2018 and 2019.[19]

2018 postponementEdit

In January 2018 the Welsh Government announced costs would rise further for the road. This was a result of opposition by Associated British Ports who sought an additional £135m for compensation to improve Newport Docks which would have been affected by the Black Route.[41]

Welsh Government Director of Economic Infrastructure Simon Jones told the Assembly Economy Committee in early 2018 that the road would cost more than the £1.4bn first estimated due to additional VAT payments which would need to be paid by the Welsh Government.[42]

In June 2018 the Department for Transport updated its Appraisal and Modelling Strategy which assesses Investment Decisions financed by the Government. It stated that new research was being commissioned to review how increases in road capacity lead to additional traffic (known as induced demand).[43] It stated that Government agencies need to update assumptions on impact.[43] The 2012 M4 Enquiry's research had assumed zero percent change to the rate of car use, due to the decision by the Enquiry not to commission any transport growth modelling.[35] The UK Government's own findings state that "induced demand is likely to be higher for capacity improvements in urban areas or on highly congested routes" and that the true scale of increased traffic caused by road expansion is not fully studied in the UK.[44]

First Minister of Wales Carwyn Jones (a supporter of the road) stepped down in 2018,[20] leaving the decision to his successor, Mark Drakeford. Drakeford was required to delay his decision due to the 2019 Newport West by-election purdah.[21]

2019 decisionEdit

On 4 June 2019 the First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, announced that the scheme would not proceed on the basis of escalating costs now at £1.4bn.[22] 2018 estimates had however already shown that the £1.4bn figure would have been far higher once VAT costs and overspending was accounted for.[17] Drakeford further attributed the decision to the global climate crisis and local "environmental impacts" to the Gwent Levels.[22] The First Minister also stated he had disagreed with the Public Inquiry which believed that the scheme represented value for money.

The Confederation of British Industry described the decision not to proceed as "a dark day for the Welsh economy", but Friends of the Earth welcomed the decision, saying it was "great news for Wales and the planet".[45]

PlanEdit

The current M4 would be diverted at Magor to follow the A4810 Eastern Distributor Road, before diverting away from it across the Caldicot and Wentloog Levels. The first junction would be located just south of the steelworks site to provide access to the Glan Llyn development site. This would be followed by a bridge over the River Usk, before another junction over the docks providing a link to the A48 Southern Distributor Road. The remainder of the route would cross the levels just south of Duffryn, before an interchange with the current M4 and A48(M) at Castleton.

Additional measuresEdit

As part of improving traffic flow around Newport, the following measures have also been taken:

  • Creating a link between the M4, M48 and B4245
  • Improvements to Junction 28 Tredegar Park
  • Removing the eastern sliproads at Junction 26 Malpas
  • Downgrading the current M4 to a trunk road, to lower specifications

CriticismsEdit

The Public Enquiry of August 2014[34] was criticised at the time for excluding the effects of any potential growth in traffic.[35] The report assumed the new road would see no growth in vehicle use, a finding which is contrary to induced demand studies which show road expansion leads to significant increases in vehicle use.[35] It was also criticised for focussing on the economic impacts over the negative consequences for the environment and public transport use.[35]

The initial enquiry was also seen as flawed after ommitting compensation payments owed to Associated British Ports and to HM Revenue and Customs for VAT. In January 2018 the Welsh Government announced costs would rise by £135m for compensation to improve Newport Docks which would have been affected by the Black Route.[41] Welsh Government Director of Economic Infrastructure Simon Jones in early 2018 informed the Government that the £1.4bn figure would not be sufficient due to additional VAT payments which would need to be paid.[42]

Friends of the Earth claimed that the road would cause great damage to local wildlife habitats as it was planned to pass through the Caldicot and Wentloog Levels, an area of natural wetlands. They also raised concerns about the large sum of public money that would have been used to fund the project, claiming that it could be better spent improving the local railway network.[25] After the July 2014 announcement that the scheme would go ahead, Gareth Clubb of Friends of the Earth Cymru called the proposal "utterly unnecessary and terribly damaging".[40] The Campaign Against the Levels Motorway (CALM) claimed that the proposed motorway would ruin a historic landscape and increase carbon emissions.[46]

Associated British Ports, who operate Newport Docks, said that the 2014 plans could jeopardise future investment in the area. Matthew Kennerley of ABP said: "We don't think it's a great idea to put the new route through the centre of Wales' most important general cargo port. We believe there is an alternative route...slightly further north...[which] would still have an impact on the port but to a much lesser extent because it would not be bisecting very important quayside areas."[47]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "CBI Wales responds to M4 decision". CBI. Retrieved 13 June 2019.
  2. ^ "Wales needs green light for the M4 black route | Institute of Directors | IoD". www.iod.com. Retrieved 13 June 2019.
  3. ^ "How Mark Drakeford is ditching Carwyn Jones' positions and priorities". Nation.Cymru. 6 June 2019. Retrieved 13 June 2019.
  4. ^ M4 Relief Road Decision, retrieved 13 June 2019
  5. ^ Wales, Brexit Party (4 June 2019). "Senedd leader @MarkReckless". @PlaidBrexit. Retrieved 13 June 2019.
  6. ^ "UKIP u-turn brings M4 black route closer - The Transport Network". www.transport-network.co.uk. Retrieved 13 June 2019.
  7. ^ Howe, Sophie (September 2018). "Transport Fit for Future Generations" (PDF). Future Generations Commissioner website. Retrieved 13 June 2019.
  8. ^ "Campaigns update: Wales celebrates as M4 development is refused". www.woodlandtrust.org.uk. Retrieved 13 June 2019.
  9. ^ "Upgrading the M4 – a threat to the Gwent Levels - Nature's Heroes - Blog - Nature's Heroes - The RSPB Community". community.rspb.org.uk. Retrieved 13 June 2019.
  10. ^ June 12 2019, Posted on; Am, 9:00. "Plaid call to invest £1.4bn scrapped M4 funding in Welsh transport network". The Party of Wales. Retrieved 13 June 2019.
  11. ^ "Former minister John Griffiths opposes any new M4 route". South Wales Argus. Retrieved 13 June 2019.
  12. ^ "Green Party deputy leader welcomes scrapping of M4 link road | The Green Party". www.greenparty.org.uk. Retrieved 13 June 2019.
  13. ^ "Welsh Liberal Democrats welcome M4 relief road rejection". Welsh Liberal Democrats. Retrieved 13 June 2019.
  14. ^ "Geotechnical Considerations and Techniques for Widening Highway Earthworks" (PDF). Persona Associates. 1 February 1991. Archived (PDF) from the original on 30 December 2019. Retrieved 30 December 2019.
  15. ^ Mosalski, Ruth (4 June 2019). "How it came to this: The 30 year saga of the M4". walesonline. Retrieved 30 December 2019.
  16. ^ a b Mosalski, Ruth (4 June 2019). "How it came to this: The 30 year saga of the M4". walesonline. Retrieved 30 December 2019.
  17. ^ a b c d "M4 relief road cost will increase further". South Wales Argus. Retrieved 30 December 2019.
  18. ^ "Hart defends M4 relief road plans". 17 July 2014. Retrieved 30 December 2019.
  19. ^ a b "Crown Highways | New Traffic Counting Loops installed at toll-free Severn Bridge". Highways Industry. 19 December 2018. Retrieved 30 December 2019.
  20. ^ a b Khomami, Nadia (21 April 2018). "Carwyn Jones to step down as first minister of Wales". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 30 December 2019.
  21. ^ a b "No decision on M4 relief road before poll". 12 March 2019. Retrieved 30 December 2019.
  22. ^ a b c d Morris, Steven (4 June 2019). "Wales scraps £1.4bn Gwent Levels M4 relief road scheme". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 30 December 2019.
  23. ^ "New M4". Welsh Assembly Government. Archived from the original on 10 December 2008. Retrieved 20 September 2008.
  24. ^ "Brynglas: A story of innovative solutions". www.tunneltalk.com. Retrieved 30 December 2019.
  25. ^ a b c d e M4 Relief road plan unveiled, BBC News, 7 December 2004
  26. ^ "Crown Highways | New Traffic Counting Loops installed at toll-free Severn Bridge". Highways Industry. 19 December 2018. Retrieved 30 December 2019.
  27. ^ South Wales Argus M4 RELIEF ROAD: Timeline
  28. ^ "CBRD M4 Toll Feature". www.cbrd.co.uk. Archived from the original on 30 September 2008. Retrieved 7 September 2013.
  29. ^ BBC NEWS | Wales | M4 and airport road plans dropped
  30. ^ 'Don't scrap M4 relief road' call, BBC News, 24 November 2009. Accessed 24 November 2009
  31. ^ Rhodri Clark (5 December 2011). "Plans for M4 relief road back on the agenda – two years after being scrapped". Western Mail.
  32. ^ "Llanwern steelworks road relief for Newport M4 bottleneck".
  33. ^ "M4 corridor enhancement measures: Overview". Retrieved 5 March 2012.
  34. ^ a b "M4 Corridor around Newport". GOV.WALES. Retrieved 30 December 2019.
  35. ^ a b c d e f g Whitelegg, John (1 February 2017). "Public Local Inquiry into the M4 relief road around Newport: The Economic case: jobs, inward Investment and regeneration" (PDF). Persona PI. Archived (PDF) from the original on 30 December 2019. Retrieved 30 December 2019.
  36. ^ "M4 relief road: Chancellor 'to approve toll plan'". BBC News.
  37. ^ Osborne denies toll option
  38. ^ http://www.m4newport.com/ Official M4 CORRIDOR AROUND NEWPORT website
  39. ^ BBC - 23 Sept 2013 - £1bn M4 relief road plan for Newport out to consultation
  40. ^ a b "£1bn M4 relief road around Newport given green light". BBC News. 16 July 2014.
  41. ^ a b "New M4 set to cost more than £1.4bn". 17 January 2018. Retrieved 30 December 2019.
  42. ^ a b "New M4 set to cost more than £1.4bn". 17 January 2018. Retrieved 30 December 2019.
  43. ^ a b "Appraisal and Modelling Strategy - Informing Future Investment Decisions" (PDF). Department for Transport. 1 June 2018. Archived (PDF) from the original on 26 July 2019. Retrieved 30 December 2019.
  44. ^ "Latest Evidence on Induced Travel Demand: An Evidence Review" (PDF). Department for Transport. 1 May 2018. Archived (PDF) from the original on 30 December 2019. Retrieved 30 December 2019.
  45. ^ "Welsh Government scraps M4 relief road", BBC Wales, 4 June 2019. Retrieved 4 June 2019
  46. ^ "CALM Home Page". Campaign Against the Levels Motorway.
  47. ^ "£1bn M4 relief road 'risks Newport docks jobs and trade'". BBC News. 17 July 2014.

External linksEdit