Wales politics

M4 relief road 'could cost £1.1bn' despite assurances

M4 in Newport
Image caption The Welsh government has backed a six-lane motorway to run south of Newport

The planned M4 relief road could cost £1.1bn, new figures show, despite the first minister saying it would be much lower than that.

The preferred route, south of Newport, would cost £857m to build but factors including buying land increase the bill, a report detailing the Welsh Government figures said.

In November 2015, Carwyn Jones said the M4 road would cost "nowhere near" £1bn.

But the government said revised estimates included ten new bridges.

It comes as officials launch a consultation on the compulsory purchase of land - an important step to launching a public inquiry.

The new six-lane stretch of motorway - the so-called black route - has proved controversial with environmental groups and politicians, and the Labour government currently has no agreement with any other party for the plan.

Ministers will be unable to give the go-ahead until after the assembly election on 5 May.

Despite Mr Jones' previous assurances about costs, the Welsh Government document puts the project estimate, excluding VAT and inflation, at £1.093bn.

The estimate, based on prices at the end of 2015, includes:

  • Total construction cost of £857m
  • Land and compensation costs of £92m
  • Project "risk" estimated at £106m

New bridges

The document, called a scheme assessment report, also says that the scheme would involve 35 new bridges. Most would be needed to allow the new motorway to pass over or under side roads.

A new bridge would be needed to carry the M4 over the River Usk. The crossing would be high enough for the passage of ships, the government says.

The figures have emerged ahead of the publication of draft orders on the compulsory purchase of land by the Welsh Government on 24 March.

Some 12 residential buildings would require demolition, including a Grade-II listed vicarage in Magor.

Other draft orders relating to the route and an environmental statement were published on Thursday.

People can object to the plans from now until 4 May and ministers will then decide whether to hold a public inquiry.

The road could be open by autumn 2021, with work potentially starting in spring 2018.

Exhibitions are set to be held in areas affected, including Magor, Newport and Nash.

A Welsh Government spokesman said "revised estimates" show construction costs for the M4 relief road of about £816m.

It is understood that the £816m figure quoted by the spokesman does not include £41m listed in the report as cash to cover risks for the contractors.

The spokesman said: "This revised cost also includes the construction of an additional 10 bridges, including one to accommodate the new 'cycle superhighway' between Newport and Cardiff and, further to stakeholder feedback, additional measures to improve connectivity between the existing and new M4.

"With contingency allowances of £147m and property compensation payments, the estimated overall costs for the project will be around £1bn.

"We remain committed to delivering this vital infrastructure investment at the best value for money."

Analysis by BBC Wales political editor Nick Servini

So we now know that, despite claims from the first minister, the latest estimates from officials indicate that it will indeed cost £1.1bn.

The consultation on compulsory purchase orders ends on 4 May, the day before the assembly election.

There's nothing new in the timeline here but it shows that Labour is pressing ahead and taking things as far as it can before the vote.

If there are significant objections then a decision will be made by ministers before the summer on whether to press ahead with a public inquiry.

By that stage, we will know the make-up of the assembly, and we will know whether all of this has been a waste of time, or whether political agreement can be reached.

The political maths is difficult for all of those who support the £1bn option, rather than upgrading an existing road.

So far Labour is the only party to come out in favour. The only other party that's considering a new motorway is the Conservatives, all of the others have come out against.

On that basis, it seems as if the only way this is going to get through the assembly would be as a result of a Labour-Tory deal.

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