Go-ahead for £1bn Wales motorwayThu, 17 Jul 2014 00:00:00 -0700
A £1 BILLION new motorway in south Wales has been given the go-ahead by the Welsh Government.
Ministers say a preferred "black route" between Junctions 23 and 29 of the M4, including a new crossing of the Usk south of Newport, will boost the economy as well as ease congestion.
But opponents say improving existing roads around Newport would be cheaper as well as kinder to the environment.
Wales Transport Minister Edwina Hart told Assembly Members "none of the alternatives solutions proposed could reasonably deliver the objectives" of easing congestion.
If built, the road would be the largest capital investment programme by the Welsh Government since the start of devolution. It is earmarked for completion by 2022.
Mrs Hart said: "Traffic congestion and unreliable journey times, particularly during rush hour, are common occurrences on the M4 around Newport.
"Addressing these capacity and resilience issues is a significant challenge that we face in ensuring that Wales has an effective economic infrastructure which improves our competitiveness and access to jobs and services."
Plans to ease congestion on the M4 were first announced in 2004. Already hampered by the Severn Bridge tolls, the Welsh economy also felt a knock-on effect of a major traffic bottleneck just before Newport.
However, in 2009 the then Labour-Plaid coalition in Cardiff Bay shelved the idea when the estimated cost rose to £1 billion.
But UK Government ministers have since agreed Welsh ministers could borrow the money needed to fund the scheme.
Chancellor George Osborne called the relief road "one of the most important road schemes in the UK".
But a new motorway would involve building on the Gwent Levels wetlands - which critics say would cause a loss of habitat and impede wildlife movement.
Opposition parties have also backed what they say is an alternative, cheaper "blue route" to upgrade the A48 Southern Distributor road at a third of the cost.
Welsh Liberal Democrat AM Eluned Parrott said the decision was a huge mistake. "It completely flies in the face of the environmental and economic issues that have been raised," she added.
"The consultation process appears to have been nothing more than a sham. The Minister's claim that there were no reasons why the 'black route' could not be adopted completely ignores evidence provided to her by the RSPB, Sustrans and the Federation of Small Businesses."
By Benjamin Wright, Press Association