The Welsh Business Community Reacts to the M4 Relief Road Decision

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Following the decision by the Welsh Government to not progress with the £1.6bn M4 Relief road, the Business Community of Wales has reacted.

The plans would have seen a 14-mile motorway built as a gateway into South Wales in a bid to tackle the congestion faced by motorists around Newport.

Ministers had decided that, with austerity and Brexit in the background, the uncertainty of the financial position of the Welsh Government meant that the project was too expensive.

A commission will now look at alternative solutions to the problem of congestion on the M4 in Newport.

Ben Cottam, FSB Wales Head of External Affairs:

“We recognise that today’s decision will cause real dismay within the business community in South East Wales and we know only too well the problems that congestion around Newport poses for businesses. However, FSB has long expressed concern about the ‘Black Route’ option for the M4 relief road, favouring the more cost effective ‘Blue Route’ option as previously proposed by Professor Stuart Cole. This option would release funding to different infrastructure priorities around the rest of Wales while helping to relieve the problems caused by congestion around Newport. While today’s decision recognises the expense of the ‘Black route’ option as well as possible environmental impacts, the need for a credible alternative to solve the problem of congestion is urgent.

“Welsh Government must move immediately to engage with business to give an assurance that it has some sort of ‘Plan B’ option and/ or re-visit the Blue Route to alleviate what is a very real problem for businesses. In his manifesto, Mr Drakeford made a clear commitment to tackle the long-standing problem of congestion on the M4 and setting out how this will be done should now be a priority for this government.

“However, for too long, this issue has used up much of the oxygen in debate about infrastructure in Wales and businesses in other areas of the country also suffer the problems caused by creaking infrastructure. We need to have a wider debate about these issues as well as considering how the funding available can be best used to tackle them and bring economic development opportunities more equally to regions across Wales”

Ian Price, CBI Wales Director:

“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.

“As the Welsh Government said at the public inquiry, the black route would emit less carbon emissions than the current road and the whole project would be carbon neutral by 2070. The wider south Wales region around Cardiff and Newport constitute only 4% of Welsh carbon emissions in total. That figure will now likely rise at a higher rate than if the black route had been built.

“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.”

Heather Myers, CEO, South and Mid Wales Chamber of Commerce:

“The South and Mid Wales Chamber of Commerce, along with the entire business community that we represent, is bitterly disappointed with today’s news.

“With the decision not to build the relief road and, currently, no alternative solution proposed to help alleviate the congestion along this stretch of the M4, we are again left in limbo. Businesses who move their goods around and people who travel to work along the motorway will face years more of chaos, hindering economic growth.

“Opposition to the M4 relief road has always been centred around the argument that there are cheaper, more environmentally friendly solutions to the recognised problem, but we are astonished that these alternative solutions have not been put forward today.

“The South and Mid Wales Chamber of Commerce will be keeping pressure on the Welsh Government to come up with a solution, so that future generations of commuters, tourists, delivery drivers, and people just trying to get across the country aren’t left in traffic jams around Newport for decades to come.”

Simon Turl, Chairman of Roadchef:

“Following the announcement today by the Welsh Government that the M4 relief road project will not be going ahead, Roadchef, its customers and employees at the Magor motorway service area are relieved that proper access to the first services on the M4 in Wales will be maintained.

With the safety of road users at the heart of our business, we have been campaigning to guarantee access to Magor motorway service area and, in doing so, continue to ensure the safety of Wales’ road users.

In light of today’s decision, Roadchef is looking forward to working with the Welsh Government to release vital investment at Magor which has up until now been on hold. Today’s announcement goes one step further in giving us the clarity we need to begin an exciting programme of investment.”

Richard Selby, Director, Pro Steel Engineering:

“I am hugely disappointed and frustrated by the First Minister’s decision. The current M4 infrastructure is on its last legs. Pro Steel strengthened one bridge and it was in a terrible state; this section of motorway was built during a time when little attention was paid to quality control. The level of congestion will also continue to infuriate business owners and commuters for years to come and will only be detrimental to the economy of south Wales. This is a major blow for improving economic prosperity that would benefit the whole of Wales.”

CCR EGP Chair Frank Holmes and CCR Business Council Chair Neil Brierley:

“We are extremely disappointed by the decision to not proceed with a M4 relief road around Newport, and we must now work to adopt alternative infrastructure and technologies to ensure South Wales keeps moving.

This new road was critical in supporting and enabling the economic and industrial strategy for growth for South-East Wales, along with adjacent regions in Wales.

We fear that without it, South-East Wales – one of the fastest growing in the UK – will become paralysed by an ageing transport infrastructure operating beyond capacity.

We welcome the £734m investment in the South Wales Metro, but the Metro can only do so much and is not going to resolve all our transport ills, certainly not in fully accommodating the transport of heavy goods. It needs to be delivered within the context of a wider plan.

Connectivity through clean growth and future mobility is a key component of our Economic and Industrial Growth Plan for the region.”

CCR EGP Chair Frank Holmes:

“The Cardiff Capital Region must now champion a determined commitment to seek a positive way forward by adopting alternative transport infrastructure and communication technologies to ensure business and access to South Wales remain open, and it does so for the wider benefit of enterprise throughout Wales.

“A sustainable and fit-for-future mobility system through private sector investment and delivery is something that won’t just get the region moving, but something which in itself could be a competitive edge.”

CCR Business Council Chair Neil Brierley:

“We need to ensure the Cardiff Capital Region remains economically competitive with the rest of the UK, and that means ensuring we have transport routes which allow effective flow of goods and movement of labour.

“Failure to remain economically competitive will mean we will be simply unable to resolve the historical economic and social issues we are trying to address through a cohesive economic growth plan for the future prosperity of all. It is imperative that a series of alternative infrastructure interventions are developed, in conjunction with the South Wales Metro, to deliver the badly needed improvements to our transport network.”

Cardiff Capital Region (CCR) Regional Cabinet Chair Councillor Andrew Morgan:

“The Regional Cabinet recognises that this has been an extremely difficult decision for the Welsh Government.

It also recognises that business groups who campaigned for this road will be disappointed.

The Regional Cabinet welcomes the creation of a commission to advise on what M4 improvements should now take place.

The region needs an urgent package of evidence-based interventions, along with substantial public transport investment, which will create a clean growth mobility infrastructure for South-East Wales.

Public transport investment addresses a number of fundamental needs and solutions for our region: improved mobility, clean growth, improved economic performance, and better social inclusivity.

That is why the £734million South Wales Metro is at the cornerstone of the £1.22billion CCR City Deal.

It is a major project, and its positive effects will be felt quickly. But in the absence of an M4 relief road, we need to see it supported with further investment and associated transport enhancements, including potential projects such as Metro 2 and Metro 3.

Our key aims are to build a sustainable and resilient region, aligned to the principles of the Well-Being of Future Generations Act.

The CCR wants to work closely with Welsh Government to co-deliver significant programmes of shared strategic importance.

The Regional Cabinet would therefore welcome the opportunity to work with the Welsh Government to advance a fit-for-future infrastructure plan for the region which will no longer include the relief road.”

Tamara Hooper, RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) Policy Manager, England and Wales:

“RICS is disappointed with the announcement made today by the First Minister that plans for a M4 relief road will be scrapped.

The report into the road was finalised after 13 months in December 2018, however no decision or statement was made for a further 6 months. The delays and ultimate decision have only served to compound the economic impacts upon Wales, in an already uncertain time for business, industry and growth.

RICS believes that the relief road is vital infrastructure for the continued growth of the Welsh economy, an important factor which companies consider when they are making investment decisions is the transport links and interconnectivity. The relief road also forms part of a holistic planning approach to stimulate and support Welsh economy, housing and other transport infrastructure, it is also vital to health as it eases congestion and air pollution.

As Wales prepares to leave the EU along with the rest of the UK, the First Minister must clearly lay out alternative plans to open Wales up to growth and investment to financially bolster the nation’s main cities and to ease air pollution caused by the gridlock not having this relief road causes.”

Rhiannon Hardiman, Wales Manager, Living Streets:

“We are very pleased by today’s announcement from the First Minister scrapping investment into the M4 relief road. The £1.4bn set aside for the M4 relief road should now be invested in efficient public transport and walking and cycling infrastructure, reducing our nation’s dependency on the private car. This is the long term change that is required to relieve congestion, improve air quality and help achieve Wales’ world-leading vision for its future generations and for a healthy, active nation.”

Justin Millett, lead director in JLL’s Cardiff office:

“This is hugely disappointing news. Despite significant challenges, the Cardiff capital region has been showing promising signs of growth. But investment in infrastructure is crucial to optimising that growth.

“Demand for industrial and logistics space in Wales has been rising steadily, buoyed by the shift to online retail and the need for warehousing and distribution space. The M4 relief road would not only have shored up that demand but helped reassure property owners to invest in much-needed new, contemporary stock.

“This decision risks a two-tier land market in South Wales with land and property on the East side of the Brynglas tunnels outvaluing areas to the West.”

Adrian Field, Executive Director of FOR Cardiff (Cardiff’s Business Improvement District):

“This is a massive disappointment and a missed opportunity to open Cardiff up and ensure greater investment, more efficiencies, increased tourism visits and spend as well as attracting talent from elsewhere. The congestion on the M4 has been an issue for far too long and the decision will cause increased misery for commuters, the very people who drive our economy. More concerning is the impact this could have on business decisions to further invest in South Wales let alone support the ones we already have. What our businesses require is an understanding of solutions to address a huge issue affecting the city and wider region. Perhaps this is the time to show a stronger commitment to the South Wales Metro and other sustainable transport services.”

Nick Durham, head of the Cardiff studio of international architects BDP:

“Following the First Minister’s announcement earlier today, we now know that the proposed 14-mile M4 relief road is no longer considered a viable option for improving connectivity between South Wales and the South West.

“Whether this leaves you relieved or frustrated it is clearly a brave decision, as it goes against much advice about the possible negative economic impacts associated with congestion on one of our main transport routes.

“It is, however, perhaps not a surprising decision. When the Welsh Government declared a climate emergency in April this year, it indicated a shift in policy towards a more considered, sustainable approach to investment in future infrastructure.  The declaration was accompanied by a call to arms from the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths:

‘I believe we have the determination and ingenuity in Wales to deliver a low carbon economy at the same time as making our society fairer and healthier… Just as Wales played a leading role in the first industrial revolution, I believe Wales can provide an example to others of what it means to achieve environmental growth.’

“The desire to create more equal, healthy and sustainable communities is a core aim of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act and one which we in the construction industry are well placed to guide and influence. My hope is that the finances allocated for the M4 relief road can be re-distributed across a range of projects which may have a more direct influence on the wellbeing of Welsh communities. For example, new healthcare and education facilities and investment in public transport, providing greater choice and improving connectivity and mobility across Wales.

“Many advocates have previously stated the importance of new road infrastructure around Newport to secure inward investment into the Cardiff and Swansea Bay City Regions and have highlighted the consequential risk of companies moving away from the area. Arguably, setting out a bold and clear vision of how to create a sustainable and healthy economy for future generations could help attract new businesses and creative thinkers who see this an opportunity to be part of the vanguard in delivering a model for sustainable economic growth.”

Robert Lloyd Griffiths, Director IoD Wales:

“This is desperately disappointing. Congestion is holding us back and is also deterring investors from considering us as viable traders. We firmly believe the Black Route is the best option for the most impactful and integrated transport option to best benefit Wales’ economy.

“For the business leaders I speak to day in, day out, the message on improving the M4 was clear: get it done and get it done quickly. We now know this is not going to happen. The lingering and procrastinating has done nothing for Wales’ reputation and the more economically and environmentally viable option which have been debated should have been thoroughly considered and presented today.

“The perennial issue of a relief road featured prominently in our Ten Point Plan for the Economy, which we presented before the last Welsh General Election, with its potential to dramatically and positively impact transport links for the Wales economy.

“We have conducted various surveys among our members for some time now, which have revealed that the M4 and major road links to north Wales still need to be drastically improved at busy junctions – congestion must be relieved and accident figures reduced. This is a dark day for the economy of Wales.”