Business leaders have raised questions over the Welsh Government’s decision to build a £1 billion M4 relief road in Newport.
Transport and Economy Minister Edwina Hart said the new road could be completed by the spring of 2022 and will stretch between Junctions 23 and 29 across the Gwent levels with a new bridge.
The route chosen, known as the ‘black route’ was one of three considered.
An alternative ‘blue route’ was also proposed by transport expert Professor Stuart Cole. This would have seen the A48 Newport Southern Distributor Road upgraded and improved.
The project is the largest capital investment programme announced by the Welsh Government.
Denise Lovering, Chair of Caerphilly Business Forum and Managing Director of Bedwas-based transport company Glenside Commercials, said there was no argument over whether a road was needed but questioned if the correct route had been chosen.
She said: “Something has to be done – no question about that.
“The congestion is bad and it will only get worse. There is no decision over whether we should have a relief road or not.”
She added: “With my transport hat on, we would support whatever’s in the public interest, but £1bn on one route?”
The Federation of Small Businesses has labelled the decision a billion pound mistake”.
Iestyn Davies, FSB’s Head of External Affairs, said: “Edwina Hart’s decision to press ahead with the current scheme is a billion pound mistake.
“The ‘black route’ which the Minister has chosen to commit the Welsh Government to is overly expensive, will take too long to deliver, and faces huge opposition from environmental groups.
“It is deeply disappointing that the Minister has turned her back on the ‘blue route’ proposed by Professor Stuart Cole – a scheme which could provide an effective solution to the current problems on the M4 a full decade earlier than the scheme she is progressing and for around £600m less.
“There are huge question marks hanging over the Minister’s plans, not least how she proposes to pay for a £1bn scheme when the Welsh Government will only be able to borrow £500m under the new powers granted by the UK Government.”
A Welsh Government spokesman said: “We are committed to this ambitious infrastructure project, which has strong backing from business in Wales. The M4 project is of vital importance to the economic prosperity of the country as a whole. In the past, we were unable to progress the scheme because it was simply unaffordable – but thanks to the new borrowing powers we have secured, we can now take forward this and other vital schemes.
“It is simply wrong to say however, that we will be using all of our early access borrowing powers to deliver the scheme. We have been clear that we will be using our new borrowing powers, alongside innovative finance and direct capital funding streams, to benefit all parts of Wales.”
The National Assembly’s Environment and Sustainability Committee said it had “grave concerns” over the plans.
Committee chair Alun Ffred Jones AM said: “The committee’s work has been concentrating on the processes followed in reaching that decision and the lack of clarity around that process.
“The report we have agreed on as a committee deals with concerns about the processes followed, environmental concerns and whether they’ve been taken sufficient note of.
“It also looks at the cost of the scheme itself, the potential of other public transport schemes that are mooted, and whether they’ve been taken into consideration, and the lack of clarity around the consultation process itself.
“Everybody on the committee agrees that something has to be done to relieve traffic congestion around Newport, but the process which the government followed to reach this decision certainly raises serous concerns.”