Congestion on the M4 around Newport has been described as ‘a foot on the windpipe of the Welsh economy’. Construction of a new 24km section of dual three-lane motorway to the south of Newport connecting to the existing M4 route at Junctions 23 and 29 has been years in the planning to provide relief.
The project would have included a 2.5 km long cable-stayed viaduct crossing of the River Usk.
Costain Vinci Joint Venture was engaged for the scheme on an early contractor involvement (ECI) basis way back in March 2015, more than four years ago.
However Wales’ first minister, Mark Drakeford, said that the project was not affordable and cited national austerity as the key reason for axing the project.
He told the Welsh Assembly yesterday: “The cabinet met at the end of April to discuss the overall financial situation facing the Welsh government, and the capital spending needs of the coming years across all portfolios, in order to give careful consideration to our forward capital programme. Cabinet concluded that the significant level of expenditure needed to deliver the M4 project would have an unacceptable impact on our other priorities in areas such as public transport, health, education, and housing.
He also raised environmental concerns and said he disagreed with the planning inspector who had recommended the scheme go ahead.
“I recognise the inspector’s conclusions as to the advantages and disadvantages of the project. However, I attach greater weight than the inspector to the adverse impacts that the project would have on the environment and ecology,” Mr Drakeford said. “In particular, I attach very significant weight to the fact that the project would have a substantial adverse impact on the Gwent levels sites of special scientific interest and their reen network and wildlife, and on other species, and a permanent adverse impact on the historic landscape of the Gwent levels. As a result, in my judgment, the project’s adverse impacts on the environment, taken together with other disadvantages, outweigh its advantages. In weighing up the inspector’s ‘strong competing interests’, my judgment as to where the balance between those competing interests lies ultimately differs from his. For these additional reasons, separate to those on the grounds of funding, I do not consider that there is a compelling case in the public interest to expropriate the land that is subject to the compulsory purchase orders, and I do not consider that it would be appropriate or expedient to make other schemes and orders.”
Construction industry vested interests expressed their disappointment, of course.
The Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) said it was ‘a devastating blow for the Welsh economy’ and the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) mourned the lost opportunity for job creation.
CECA Wales director Ed Evans said: “There has been much speculation within the industry for some time that the Welsh government has been preparing the ground to cancel their plans for an M4 relief road around Newport.
“It is now clear that Wales will lose out again. This has been a dreadfully slow process riddled with political indecision. And yet the problems for businesses and communities in this part of Wales remain as do, sadly, the environmental impacts caused by congestion and tailbacks at the tunnels.
“The civil engineering sector looks forward to hearing details as a matter of urgency of how the Welsh government now intends to use its borrowing powers to invest in Wales’ infrastructure with alternative schemes.”
CITB Wales partnerships director Mark Bodger said: “The M4 relief road would have led to a considerable increase in construction jobs in Wales, with valuable opportunities for skills and training.
“CITB Wales will meet with the Welsh government to understand how future investment will develop a pipeline of construction projects with the widest possible benefits for employers, communities and the environment in Wales, including skills and training for individuals.”