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M4 relief road cancelled after cost estimates rise to over £2 billion

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THE WELSH Government has ditched plans to build an M4 relief road.

After years of planning, a lengthy public inquiry, and extensive controversy both about the delays in making a decision and the potential environmental impact of the new road, First Minister Mark Drakeford announced his widely anticipated decision to cancel the project in a statement issued on Tuesday, June 4.

The M4 relief road was a marquee project for the Welsh Government; however, internal Labour politics slowed down progress towards a decision with the result that former First Minister Carwyn Jones passed the buck for the final decision to his successor. Mr Jones favoured the scheme, while Mr Drakeford was more equivocal about its prospects.

Originally proposed in 1991, the scheme was dropped by the Welsh Government in 2009 on grounds of cost (then an estimated £1bn) before being revived in 2011. The project secured UK Treasury support in 2013 and was approved by the then-Welsh Government Transport Minister Edwina Hart in 2014, with a completion date of 2022.

Since 2014, the road lingered in development hell through a raft of consultations and a public inquiry.

M4 decision: Drakeford slated for dither and delay

The First Minister’s decision to cancel the scheme raises questions about the huge amount of public money and government manpower expended on it. His principal objection is the same as that which led to the original scheme’s cancellation in 2009: money, or the Welsh Government lack of it/unwillingness to spend it.

Friends of the Earth Cymru director Haf Elgar said: “This is great news for Wales and the planet.

“As well as costing Welsh taxpayers over £2 billion pounds, this devastating road would have ploughed through the unique, wildlife-rich Gwent Levels, pumped more climate-wrecking emissions into our atmosphere, and ultimately caused even more congestion and air pollution.

“This decision is a testament to the untiring efforts of local residents who have opposed this plan over decades and is a clear signal that the Welsh Government is taking its climate emergency declaration and commitment to future generations seriously.”

Ian Price, CBI Wales Director, said: “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.”

On  his Facebook page, Stephen Crabb MP said: “They’ve bottled it. The Welsh First Minister’s decision not to give the M4 relief road the green light is short sighted and will be deeply frustrating for number of commuters, businesses and tourists.

“I’ve spoken to numerous Pembrokeshire businesses, from hauliers to tourism operators, who are all fully aware the damage the congestion around Newport does for our local economy. One Pembrokeshire haulage firm alone runs 40 lorries each way through the M4 bottle neck each day, with drivers calling it a ‘no go’ area between 7.30am and 10am in the morning and from 4pm to 6.30pm in the afternoon.

“This decision even contradicts the independent public enquiry led by a planning inspector which backed the project. This is a failure of devolution as the Welsh Assembly was supposed to help projects such as this get off the ground.

“I recently held a debate in Parliament about the importance of this project for the wider Welsh economy, so it is very disappointing that Mark Drakeford has dropped it especially as this issue has dragged on for nearly 30 years.”

Full in-depth coverage in The Herald this Friday

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Storm Christoph set to batter Wales says Met Office [Video]

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STORM Christoph will cause heavy rain and flooding in Wales on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, the Met Office has said.

Forecasters are warning that there could be up to 200mm in some parts of north Wales and say that the heaviest and “most persistent” rain will be in Wales.

The warning states: “Several days of persistent, and occasionally heavy, rain are expected to affect the region as Storm Christoph affects the UK.

The heaviest and most persistent rain is likely to be across Wales and the high ground of northern England.

“By early Thursday, 30-60 mm of rain is expected to have fallen widely across the warning area, with 100-150 mm over the high ground of Wales and northern England.

“Up to 200 mm is possible across parts of north Wales and northwest England.

“Melting snow across higher parts of the Pennines may exacerbate the potential for flooding. Strong winds will also accompany the rainfall and may add to travelling difficulties across areas higher and more exposed routes.”

The warning is in place from midnight on Tuesday until noon on Thursday (January 21).

Welsh forecaster Derek Brockway says: “Large rainfall totals on high ground in south and northwest Wales.

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Enabling works start at regeneration site in Pembroke

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WORK has started on the highly anticipated South Quay regeneration project in Pembroke.

Ambitious plans by Pembrokeshire County Council will see the site next to Pembroke Castle developed into a Visitor Centre, celebrating the town’s history and heritage and incorporating a new Library and Café.

The scheme will also include major enhancements to the public realm and landscaping improvements and public access to the building’s gardens at the rear.

Cllr Paul Miller, Cabinet Member with Responsibility for Economic Development, welcomed work starting on site.

“I’m delighted to see work getting underway. These buildings, right in the heart of Pembroke, have been left to rot for more than a decade by previous Council administrations but thankfully no longer. I am committed to Pembroke and am personally determined to help the town see a brighter future.

“Our investment in South Quay is just the first and most visible part of our commitment to the future of Pembroke and I’m looking forward to engaging with the community on the next steps over the coming months.”

The enabling works, undertaken by contractors Lloyd and Gravell are to ready the site for the development contract. They include the clearing and preparation of the site ready for the stabilisation of derelict buildings in Castle Terrace.

The South Quay project has secured £901,590 of Welsh Government Transforming Towns funding to support delivery of the first stage enabling works.

Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government Hannah Blythyn said: “The regeneration of South Quay is a fantastic example of how support though our Transforming Towns programme can be used to breathe new life into an old building to create a centre that will become as asset to the local community and celebrate the town’s history.  I look forward to seeing how this work progresses.”

Cllr Aaron Carey, County Councillor for Pembroke St Mary South, said it was good to see progress on site.

“No amount of plans or drawings can prepare you for the huge task at hand when the project is seen up close,” he said.

“We as a community are putting our generation’s mark on a thousand year old town and it’s really exciting to see the work being started on site after so many years as an eyesore in the castle’s shadow.”

(Pictured are Cllr Paul Miller and Cllr Aaron Carey at South Quay in Pembroke, where work has started on a key regeneration project.)

 

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Stephen Crabb MP to defy whips on Universal Credit uplift

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PRESELI MP Stephen Crabb will defy the Conservative whip for the first time today.

The former Work and Pensions Secretary will ignore an instruction to abstain on a non-binding Labour motion to keep the £20 uplift to Universal Credit beyond March 31.

In his Spending Review last November, Chancellor Rishi Sunak refused to commit to keeping the £20 payment. The Chancellor introduced it last year to compensate families of the unemployed or
those on low incomes for the extra costs they incur during the Covid pandemic.

Stephen Crabb has repeatedly made it clear that he wants the £20 top-up to continue to give the poorest and most vulnerable at least some cushion from the effects of the deepening recession.

Although the Westminster Government claims it is optimistic about the economy’s future, the short-to-medium term looks grim.

Many businesses have closed and are unlikely to reopen. Not all of those who lost their jobs will get back into employment. It is likely any jobs on offer once the economy picks up will be low
paid and leave many still dependent on Universal Credit in some form.

Speaking on Times Radio this morning, Mr Crabb said: “No one can say we have a generous benefits system. We don’t. The unemployment component of benefits is at its lowest for a generation.

Withdrawing that additional £20 per week at the end of March will cause hardship. I don’t think it’s the right thing to do.”

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