Thursday, February 28, 2019


The proposed M4 relief road across the Gwent Levels is one of those questionable proposed projects that will devour public money with no tangible medium to longer term benefit. Projected costs have risen from some £900 million to £1.2 billion pounds - having personally listened to enough civil engineers - we can probably expect at least another 20% on top. 

There may well be a link between the rising costs, when it comes to the completion of public sector infrastructure projects and the cost relationship between the construction companies and the corridors of power in Westminster and Whitehall. The inability of public sector infrastructure projects to be completed on-time and on budget should be a concern for all of us - if for nothing else than the fact that it's our money that's being simultaneously both spent and raked up.  

Are we doomed to repeat the same mistakes? 
The Westminster government has (somewhat reluctantly in my opinion) actually devolved a degree of borrowing powers to the Welsh Government with a less than subtle heavy hint that they should be used to finance this expensive road project. This was backed up in the last Westminster budget with a stronger suggestion/ hint that any extra monies received from Westminster should be used to fund the M4 Relief Road. So much for Westminster having a grasp of the concept of devolution! 

Using the borrowing powers to finance this questionable road project would effectively tie the hands of future Welsh governments for some years into the future. We would be better off if the monies (£2 billion pounds could accomplish a great deal)were spent in the construction of a properly thought out South Wales metro which would provide realistic realistic reasonably priced alternatives for people trying to get to and from work. 

The construction of the Black route is a non starter, its lazy complacent short term thinking, it with the addition of potentially 6 million additional vehicle invents on and around the M4 will not deliver any benefits beyond the immediate short term (if even that). It's environmental destructive to both people and the rich human constructed environment that are the unique Gwent Levels. And it also just happens to strengthen those questionable links between Westminster and Whitehall and the large construction companies.

Historically the original M4 was intended to be built to the North of Caerleon / Lodge hill - with the provision of a connection for Newport's industrial and business areas (the SDR) Newport Council lobbied for the M4 to be built through northern Newport - it came with plenty of junctions - which we all then used to travel back and for from one side of Newport to another. 

Many (some 100,000) journeys on the M4 are defined as local, we use the M4 for local journeys around or across Newport as well as to get to and from work. The proposed M4 Relief road is no simple by-pass - it will have at least 4 junctions effectively setting itself up for more of the same. its odd sometimes how history can repeat or echo itself - and no one seems to notice.

There is no simple easy fix solutions to our traffic and infrastructure problems, they are fundamentally underlined by a degree of tolerated (by Westminster, Cathays Park and Cardiff Bay) economic weakness. The problems are not, however, unsurmountable if tackled incrementally, one start would be to build railway stations at Caerleon / Ponthir, Llanwern and Magor.

These new stations should be built with adequate cheap, secure, safe park and ride facilities, tied in with local bus services - along with a reasonable regular timetabled service between Ebbw Vale and Newport - and we may begin to see a real reduction in local journeys across and around Newport on the M4 as people have a real alternative to using their cars.

A well designed and well thought out South Wales Metro that actually serves all of South Wales rather simply feeding people in and out of Cardiff, is not what's been offered. The Metro is often portrayed as a big single entity of a project - it is complex and multi layered - but it can and should be constructed incrementally.  As the completion of parts of the project will have significant local (and regional) impact on congestion, pollution and travel to (and from) journeys to work across the south east. 

Hand in hand with developing the South Wales Metro, future Welsh governments should also bite the bullet and ensure that ticket prices are cheap and that any franchise holder ensures that there is adequate provision of rolling stock (preferably from the early 21st rather than the late 20th century). We need 21st century ticketing which will enable users to make use of multiple modes of transport with single source ticketing. 

All this is achievable, deliverable and measurable - what's is desperately needed is the political will and a real / actual commitment to getting the job done, rather than simply talking about it. Sadly we have seen precious little of that in recent years from successive Labour in Wales government in Cardiff Bay or from a rabidly Brexit focused Westminster.

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