In this guest blog, Hugh Mackay of CALM (Campaign Against the Levels Motorway) updates us on the latest challenges to the controversial plans to build a new section of motorway across the Gwent Levels.
In a highly significant intervention, the Future Generations Commissioner in Wales has published a powerful critique of the Welsh Government’s £1.4 billion M4 scheme, proposing that the resource be spent instead on public transport and active travel.
This scheme was first proposed in the early 1990s, and was examined at a Public Inquiry which ran between February 2017 and March 2018. The report of that Inquiry is expected to be delivered to the Welsh Government imminently. The scheme is proposed by the Welsh Government, and would be the easily most expensive public sector investment since devolution began in 1999.
The report, Transport Fit for Future Generations follows the Future Generations Commissioner’s criticism of the scheme at the Public Inquiry. It has been produced by Sophie Howe, the Commissioner, in conjunction with a number of other organisations and consultants. The Future Generations Commissioner is appointed by the Welsh Government. Her role is to assist public bodies in Wales to consider the long-term impact of their decisions, and thus to act as the guardian of future generations. The role was set up by the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015.
This is the legislation which will be invoked in our legal challenge, should the decision be made that the scheme should proceed. CALM, the Campaign Against the Levels Motorway, has been planning for this and (should it be necessary) will soon be embarking on fund-raising for this.
The report explains clearly that the Public Inquiry was into the Government’s proposed ‘Black Route’ but did not consider wider issues or alternatives. It suggests that no decision is taken about the M4 until a decarbonisation plan is in place. The report is highly critical of the Government’s arguments for the scheme – which is planned to save a mere 2.5 to 5 minutes travel time at peak hours. Other investment, the report argues, would generate wider benefit and would deliver additional well-being goals.
It is an extraordinarily hard-hitting document, providing a powerful critique of the case for the road, arguing that ‘we can’t afford to continue addressing 21st century transport issues with 20th century solutions’.
There are good arguments about ‘transport poverty’ and the possible transformation of transport with emerging technologies. There is some detail on possible alternatives, in the form of the South Wales Metro, other public transport, and an active travel network. And the report connects all of these issues with well-being objectives, decarbonisation, inequality and physical and mental health.
There is a lively debate in Wales about the scheme, with the CBI and many of the public seeing the jams on the existing M4 and wanting the road built as soon as possible. On the other side is an increasingly large number of opponents – both in and out of the ruling Labour Party – who mustered an impressive range of expert witnesses, who provided a powerful set of arguments at the Public Inquiry. Supporters of Campaign for Better Transport are among the objectors, which operate under the umbrella body of the Campaign Against the Levels Motorway (CALM) and include the Wildlife Trust, RSPB, FoE, CPRW, Cycling UK and many of the community councils.
The report is published not only just before the publication of the report of the Public Inquiry, but also before the Welsh Labour Party appoints a new Leader. The current Leader (and First Minister) Carwyn Jones has said that he will be stepping down by December this year. His successor has yet to be elected – indeed, the electoral system for the next leader has only just been decided. So this remarkably comprehensive and powerful report is arriving at what is a critical moment for this major road proposal in Wales.
Dr Hugh Mackay is a member of CALM, Campaign Against the Levels Motorway.