Campaigners are calling on the Welsh Government to drop proposals for a swathe of new M4 motorway – the so-called Black Route – across the Gwent Levels near Newport. In this guest blog, Catherine Linstrum, Chair of CALM, explains why so many people oppose the plans.
CALM (Campaign Against the Levels Motorway) is an umbrella organisation of local people and organisations committed to finding a sustainable and positive way of dealing with congestion in and around Newport and to protect the Gwent Levels from the proposed M4 Relief Road.
The proposed new stretch of motorway offers no solution to Newport’s problems, in fact it would make things worse. This is why.
The Welsh Government acknowledges induced traffic to be an inevitable consequence of the Black Route. More traffic as a result of the new motorway means more congestion on arterial roads and within the city of Newport itself. At the cost of well over £1bn, the new motorway would worsen the very problem it is meant to address.
The perception of the existing M4 as a dangerous stretch of motorway is false, since accident rates on the M4 around Newport are actually below the UK motorway average. There is no evidence that a new motorway, with faster speeds, would reduce the number of accidents. The whole of Newport would benefit far more if scarce resources for capital transport infrastructure were channelled into a genuine, integrated Metro, with a tram network at its core.
The Black Route offers no economic benefit to Newport since it would act as a bypass and damage local businesses in the line of the route, as recognised by the Federation of Small Businesses. It would also throttle Newport Docks, run by Associated British Ports. ABP are currently in talks with the Welsh Government – if those talks fail to reach a conclusion which satisfies ABP, port business may have to move elsewhere, meaning job losses which the city can ill afford.
Furthermore, since the Welsh Government has to be seen to invest in the whole of Wales, not just the South-east, spending well over £1bn here in the coming years makes it highly unlikely that this area of Wales would see any more major public capital investment for decades.
The Black Route would damage one of Newport’s most precious assets – the Gwent Levels. This wildlife-rich wetland landscape is the lungs of the city, offering much in terms of health and well-being to the people of Newport. The Black Route would act as a barrier between the city of Newport and the Levels, particularly in such areas as Duffryn where the motorway is set to pass directly in front of The John Frost School.
The Gwent Levels are studded with nature reserves and designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest. They are of national importance for humans and wildlife – the city of Newport should be proud of this beautiful landscape and be the fierce custodian of its future.
The Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, Sophie Howe, has raised fundamental objections, stating that the Black Route does not comply with the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. The concluding paragraph of her evidence to the 2017 Public Inquiry is worth quoting:
“I do not believe that the proposed scheme appropriately applies the principle of taking decisions in a way which meets today's needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It does not adequately take into account future trends, it is not a good example of how the five ways of working should be applied and the case for investing in this scheme from the perspective of future generations has not been made.”
The Black Route is an outdated response to our transport needs, as demonstrated by constant road-building going hand in hand with rising congestion throughout the 20th Century. There is an opportunity here for Wales to invest in future-proof transport solutions for this generation and those to come. Rather than becoming a forgotten city bypassed on both sides, Newport could become truly accessible to all.
Investment in the alternatives to the M4 Black Route will put Newport on the map as a great city – a hub for sustainable transport and the gateway to some of Wales’ most extraordinary landscapes.
The final submission from key members of CALM to the M4 inquiry can be seen here.
A summary of the Future Generations Commissioner's proof of evidence can be consulted here.
To find out more, see the CALM campaign website.