Wales politics

'Disappointing' response to M4 relief road concerns, says committee chair

Congestion on the M4
Image caption Congestion on the M4 around Newport is said to be damaging the Welsh economy

Welsh ministers' response to concerns about the proposed M4 relief road has been "disappointing", the chairman of an assembly committee has said.

Plaid Cymru AM Alun Ffred Jones said the Welsh government always seemed to find reasons to not give details about how its decision was reached.

In July, ministers backed plans for a route for the new motorway between junctions 23 and 29 of the M4.

Ministers said strict rules had limited what they could say to the committee.

The assembly was debating a report by the cross-party environment committee which Mr Jones chairs and which raised serious concerns about plans to build the road around Newport.

The preferred, so-called "black route" for a relief road goes through the Gwent Levels wetlands, which environmental groups say is an important wildlife habitat.

'Disastrous'

AMs heard worries that the traffic projections underpinning the plan, following the route, were outdated because of the likely effect of electrifying the railways and the proposed South Wales Metro project.

Mr Jones said "there seems to be always a reason for not giving any details or indeed answering some basic questions about the process which led up to this decision".

Conservative AM Antoinette Sandbach told Mrs Hart: "I don't think you've been prepared to be transparent or open or scrutinised properly on the decision making that has taken place so far."

Plaid's Llyr Gruffydd said that when the minister declined to give evidence to the assembly's environment committee "a very clear message came across that we were being prevented from scrutinising a scheme".

Labour AM Julie Morgan said the proposed route had "disastrous environmental consequences".

Image copyright Welsh Government
Image caption Three of the route options including the black route, which Transport Minister Edwina Hart has backed

Mrs Hart said the timing of the committee's inquiry meant she could not give evidence in person because of strict rules on major highways schemes.

She said there would be a detailed environmental impact study before design work begins and that she anticipated that there would be a public inquiry.

"This will be considered very carefully before we decide how to proceed," she said.

Friends of the Earth has lodged a request for a judicial review of her decision to opt for the black route proposal.

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