M4 Question to the First Minister

Jayne Bryant AM:
Thank you, First Minister, for your statement. The process leading to today has spanned over 20 years, cost millions of pounds and created much uncertainty for local residents and businesses. Today we have a decision. It is deeply disappointing and a bitter blow for Newport.
I’d like to put on record my thanks to the Independent Inspector who led the year-long Public Inquiry and to all those who gave evidence to it. The Inspector and his team examined over a hundred solutions, including the option of doing nothing.
Whilst I respect the objections of ecologists, many will conclude that this decision condemns Newport to further decades of heavy congestion, idling traffic and toxic fumes. The current road is not fit for purpose and was never designed to be a motorway. Idling traffic pollutes more than flowing traffic, and persistent congestion means toxins on this stretch of motorway, and the surrounding residential areas, are dangerously high.
The vast majority of M4 traffic is not local traffic. The Government’s own estimates suggest a doubling of public transport usage in Newport would remove only 6% of the M4 traffic. In contrast the volumes of traffic coming over the Severn Bridge have risen by 10% since the tolls were removed. Can the First Minister confirm that the Commission’s remit also include traffic that comes from England?
Every time there is an accident or severe congestion at the Brynglas Tunnels, motorway traffic is pushed onto local roads, closer to homes and schools. This creates gridlock, choking the City and stopping buses from running on time. While congestion is a major barrier to economic growth in South Wales, it is also the people of Newport, my constituents, who suffer as a result.
I have always said that inaction is not an option. The problem around the Brynglas Tunnels must not be consigned to the ‘too difficult’ box. That is not good enough. We cannot go back to square one. A sustainable solution has to be found, and quickly.
I have already heard people suggesting a whole variety of different projects across Wales. Can the First Minister guarantee me that the money set aside for a solution to this specific problem – will be used for exactly that – solving the longstanding pollution and congestion caused by the M4 running through Newport?
Finally, the people of Newport will have seen many reviews come and go. It is crucial that the commission does not only consider the opinions of a select few. It must include the people whose daily lives are actually affected. What can you say to reassure them that this commission will report on time and deal with the issues once and for all?
Mark Drakeford AM, First Minister:
Llywydd, I thank Jayne Bryant for the many hours of attention that she has given to this matter and for the many meetings that I have had with her on it over the months before I became First Minister, as she seeks with others to find solutions to the problems around Newport. She’s been absolutely assiduous in doing that, and I want to give her an assurance that, in coming to my decision today and in setting it out in the way that I have, I am absolutely determined that we will demonstrate to the people of Newport that there
are things that can be done in the here and now, far in advance of any relief that a relief road would have provided, to have an impact upon the issues that they face.
Sometimes, Llywydd, the relief road is described as a solution to many problems. I read very carefully, and take very seriously, the things that the inspector said about air quality around Newport, but when Members have a chance to read it they will find that while the inspector found that 30,000 properties would have air quality improved, he also found that in 29,500 of those properties the impact would be negligible or minor and that only 12 of those 30,000 properties would see a major impact on their air quality.
So, the air quality issues are really important. We are more aware of those today than we were even five years ago, but the M4 relief road turned out not to be a solution to the air quality problems faced by the people of Newport. I think there are other solutions that will have a greater benefit to them.
benefit to them.
I’m grateful to Jayne Bryant for drawing attention to the issue of incidents and accidents, because I set out in my statement those things we think we can do immediately to deal more swiftly with accidents that occur, particularly around the Brynglas tunnel, because if we are able to have greater patrols, more police presence, different arrangements for clearing accidents away from the motorway so that they can be properly responded to and investigated, then we won’t have some of the lengthy holdups that otherwise take place, and the motorway will be restored to proper functioning without the impact on surrounding areas that the Member for Newport West pointed to.
Let me deal with the issue of money, because I have said already in my discussions with some of those who will populate the commission that they will have first call on the money that otherwise would have been set aside for the M4 relief road. And I wanted to give them that confidence that when they come up with practical ideas, that the resourcing will be available to put those ideas into practice. I’ve made that commitment already to them; I’m very pleased to repeat it again this afternoon. When Ken Skates makes his statement tomorrow, he will have more to say about how the commission will operate its methods of working, and how that will make sure that the voices of local people and others are heard in the decisions that it will make. And I’m sure the Member will want to both ask questions but also to welcome what will be said on that front, too.