M4 reaction: The best of times and the worst of times

 

The cancellation of the £1.4bn M4 relief road has provoked strong reactions from both sides, with campaigners hoping it marks a line in the sand on new road building, while the business community bemoaned a 'dark day' for Wales.

One issue that was raised was the £40m development costs that have been lost by the decision to scrap the £1.4bn scheme. This could be added to the £53m lost on London's Garden Bridge development process and £8.3m on the Orwell bridge scheme in Suffolk without anything being built. (Not to mention the Brexit Ferries fiasco.)

”Local
The existing M4 goes through the Brynglas tunnels

While the debate over the M4 still rages, one might feel governments and transport planners appear to have become more attune to the sunk costs fallacy, if they see it as being invoked. Although in all three of these cases a change in leadership naturally made the decisions easier.

Against the scheme

Rachael Maskell MP, Labour’s shadow transport minister, said: 'The Welsh Labour government is right to scrap this wasteful plan following the declaration of a climate emergency.

'The evidence shows that more road building only makes the problems of traffic growth, carbon emissions and congestion worse, not better.

'The UK Government should take note and reconsider their climate damaging spending spree on new road building and should invest in active travel and public transport instead to address demand.'

Darren Shirley, chief executive of Campaign for Better Transport, declared, perhaps more in hope than belief, that the decision 'signifies the end of business as usual for new road building'.

'At a time when we urgently need to tackle air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions we can't afford for this decision to be a brave one-off. We need transformative investment in public transport to help reduce car use, not new roads to encourage it. Westminster needs to take a similar long-term view with the second round of the Roads Investment Strategy.'

Friends of the Earth Cymru director Haf Elgar echoed these sentiments arguing that scraping of the scheme would save billions, protect 'the unique, wildlife-rich Gwent Levels' and ultimately would lead to less congestion.

For the scheme

Similar grand rhetoric was seen from the other side, although naturally with a more despairing tone.

Ian Price, CBI Wales director, said: 'This is a dark day for the Welsh economy. After decades of deliberation and over £40m spent, no problem has been solved today. Congestion and road pollution around Newport can only increase. Economic growth will be stifled, confidence in the region will weaken and the cost of an eventual relief road will rise.

'Today’s announcement is a short-term measure that regrettably solves nothing and sends the message that Wales is not open for business.

'While we struggle to see what alternative could be better than the M4 black route, the ball is back in the Welsh Government’s court to deliver their Plan B. An urgent and credible solution to the problem of congestion around the Brynglas tunnels must now be developed.'

Contractors' association CECA said it was a 'devastating blow for the Welsh economy, for businesses and for communities in this part of Wales' that came despite decades of traffic congestion and tailbacks at the Brynglas Tunnels and detrimental impacts on the economy of Wales'.

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.'

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