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Future generations chief calls for green alternative to road


Rhodri Clark
14 September 2018

The Future Generations Commissioner for Wales has published a report that claims investing in public transport and active travel would be a better use of money than the Welsh Government’s proposed M4 Relief Road at Newport.

The Welsh Government appointed Sophie Howe after the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 was passed. Her task is to ensure all public bodies take account of the long-term results of their actions.

Howe voiced her concerns over the M4 ‘Black Route’ option, estimated to cost £1.4bn, during the road’s 83-day public inquiry that ended in March. Ministers will decide whether to go-ahead after digesting the planning inspector’s report.

Finance secretary Mark Drakeford, front-runner to succeed Carwyn Jones as first minister, has previously said he would find a lower-cost solution “attractive”.

Howe’s new report, Transport fit for future generations, was written in partnership with the Centre for Transport and Society (CTS) at the University of the West of England, Sustrans and the New Economics Foundation.

Launching the report, Howe said: “The public inquiry has narrowly focused on solutions for road travel and not considered any other alternative options. Our report highlights evidence around how building roads does not solve congestion and will result in Wales failing to decrease its carbon emissions and missing the Government’s own targets of 80 per cent reduction by 2050.”

The report says the Black Route would “exacerbate many of the societal and environmental challenges facing Wales” and notes that 28 per cent of households in Newport have no car or van.

While developing the M4 scheme, the Government concluded that investing in public transport would not avoid the need for a new road to relieve the M4 bottleneck at Newport. However, Howe’s report says: “The public transport options analysed in 2013 did not represent a comprehensive alternative transport package.”

The 2013 analysis was based on £330m of public transport improvements. Her report proposes that funding earmarked for the Black Route be used instead for a £460m upgrading of public transport and £290m of active travel infrastructure across the entire Cardiff Capital Region.  

The report’s proposed public transport measures comprise: further enhancements to rail links to improve access to Newport, in particular; express commuter coaches between Cardiff, Newport and the West of England; and a ‘link and ride’ service between Newport and Monmouth where an express bus or coach would call at a series of small car parks.

“Our comparative, multi-criteria analysis demonstrates that a comprehensive alternative transport package would significantly outscore the Black Route on both the Government’s long-standing criteria for transport evaluation (WelTAG 2017) and the criteria mandated by the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015,” says the report. “For the Black Route to be established as the preferential option in this new model, an inordinate weighting (20 times) must be placed on the single criterion representing the small individual time savings of between 2.5 and 5 minutes.”

Howe commented: “Wales must choose whether to spend £1.4bn on building a 14-mile section of M4 motorway, or to invest in alternative sustainable transport infrastructure that’s fit for future generations.”


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