Mark Drakeford, Labour first minister of the Welsh government, has cancelled the planned Newport Relief Road – which was designed to reduce congestion on the M4 around the South Wales town – on financial and environmental grounds, after £44 million was spent planning the route.
The Brynglas tunnels, which were planned in the 1950s and opened in 1967, currently form a chokepoint on the M4, forcing three lanes into two. The Newport Relief Road would have diverted the majority of through traffic away to the south.
Newport West Labour AM Jayne Bryant said: “The decision condemns Newport to further decades of heavy congestion, idling traffic and toxic fumes.”
Others have been even more outspoken. Chris Bird, director of 30-truck CJ Bird, based at Llantrisant just west of Cardiff and close to the M4, said: “I should sell my trucks and buy a horse and cart: this decision will put transport back 200 years.
“Together with Brexit, this sounds the death knell for Wales. It is no surprise that Ford is closing Bridgend. Every day we are beset with delays which are caused by the two-lane sections of the M4 at the Brynglas tunnels. Unless you can get trucks past the bottleneck between 10am and 2pm, the least time they will lose is 15 to 20 minutes.
“When there’s a major event at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, then it all grinds to a halt. We use TomTom telematics, and this afternoon it’s showing traffic backed up from Brynglas to the other side of the Severn Bridge; it’s been like that since 2.30pm. Reason is, there’s a Pink concert at the Millennium Stadium tonight.
“I don’t accept that it’s a cost issue. The Severn Bridges were paid for by tolling, and the Newport Relief Road could have been too.”
RHA chief executive, Richard Burnett said that a thriving Welsh economy needs a fit-for-purpose M4 to attract new investment and spark growth.
“Firms frustrated with crippling congestion on the M4 will feel they’ve been let down by the Welsh government,” he remarked.
“South Wales needs high-capacity, high-quality road infrastructure to keep people and goods moving efficiently. But scrapping the relief road without a clear alternative to reduce congestion will only make Wales less attractive to investors.”
Simon Hicks is transport manager at Hicks Logistics in Newport. He said the decision was a “massive disappointment for us, as it was for every transport operation in the area”.
He continued: “We are gutted. It impacts on what we do, and what our customers do.
“It has called into question any future investment by us in this area. We will be forced to look at other options: either making the investment in another area, or not making the investment at all.
“I can understand the concerns about the environmental impact of the new road, but there’s an environmental impact from not building the new road too.
“On the economic front, it effectively revives the Severn Bridge toll effect… it’s a psychological barrier against coming to south-east Wales.
“The traffic congestion issue is well-known: nationally and internationally. Even the England rugby team has been made late for their own match during the Six Nations.
“About 40 vehicles of our fleet of 85 operate in this area. Each one loses about an hour every morning and evening in traffic congestion on the M4. There’s nothing that can be done given the current road layout, because there is no alternative route.”
Meanwhile, the Welsh government has also announced that ‘temporary’ speed limits on the M4, designed to ameliorate air quality issues in the area, are to be made permanent.
In response, Sally Gilson, Welsh policy manager at the Freight Transport Association, said: “Previous data has shown that air quality target levels will be achieved without any additional measures, due to fleet replacement and the increase in Euro 6 vehicles. The A48 was projected to achieve target levels by this year, with the A494 the latest to achieve target in 2022.”