No new M4

Brilliant news from Ieuan Wyn Jones. The Gwent Levels motorway is dead.

Well done!

This is a video of the announcement of the National Transport Plan and a very good debate about it in the Senedd this afternoon. Don't be put off by the fact he starts in Welsh, most of the speech and debate is in English.


You can download the document itself, which contains much more than just the Gwent Levels motorway, here:

     Y Cynllun Trafnidiaeth Cenedlaethol
     The National Transport Plan

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Sweet and Tender Hooligan said...

I am not sure I follow.

That road is a crucial need for this area and the wider welsh economy. How can we sell Wales to business if we have one road in, that is one minor accident away from chaos…?

MH said...

I've now included a video of the debate.

The Tories raised much the same question as you, Marcus, and I thought that IWJ (and Alun Davies, who responded for Labour, 27min) explained the reasons well.

I'll write more later, when I've had a chance to digest the whole thing.

Anonymous said...

I have always had mixed views about the Gwent levels motorway - yes the old M4 is massively overloaded and dteres visitors to Wales - but the proposed new road is very expensive and destructive.

But this is typical of government roads planning - they want a huge 6 lane superhighway capable of taking everything off the M4 - but there is another solution....

As any engineer will tell you, the damage done by heavy trucks is massivey more than done by cars and light vehicles, so it would be possible to build a much lighter and smaller road by restricting it to cars and vans only.

Keep the trucks on the heavy duty old M4 and build a light duty M4-lite instead - provide more local access links for South Newport - and link to a Parkway station between Newport and Cardiff.

Maybe even continue the road as the missing Eastern link for the Cardiff distrubutor road.

But something different needs to be done

Anonymous said...

I have just been reading up some more on this - by exending the Newport SDR across the Llanwern site you would achieve most of the Eastern end of the route without going through the levels - and if a new route was to follow the railway line between Cardiff & Newport it would minimize environmental impact here.

I do beleieve in taking a green approach but this should not mean no new roads anywhere - sometimes they are neccesary.

Sweet and Tender Hooligan said...

Do any of your guys actually use this road day to day?

Because i do.

MH said...

I agree with you completely, Penddu. It's the conclusion I came to back in 2007, and I've just said it again in my post today.

I would just add that the other factor is taking some heavy freight traffic off the M4 and transfering it to rail. If we can get that right, it will be another factor acting to reduce capacity pressure on the M4.


Marcus, I trust what I've written answers your points too. What concerned me in what you wrote was the idea that Wales had just "one road in". Of course the M4 is important, very important, but it is not the ONLY way into and out of Wales.

But you have better things to concentrate on right now. Good luck for tomorrow. I wish you and Emma every happiness.

Anonymous said...

@MH - removing HGV's from the existing M4 is not practical - a 100% increase in rail freight represents a 10% reduction in HGV numbers on the motorway.

@ Penddu - The new M4 / M4 relief road has been in planning for 20 years. Time and time again, the only feasible option for solving all of the problems associated with the existing motorway has been found to be the construction of a new motorway.

The Assembly has been delaying maintenance work on the existing motorway for 20 years except "sticking plaster" solutions. This is because they couldn't afford to impose the disruption on the travelling public - over 100,000 vehicle movements per day - without a suitable alternative route. The SDR cannot cope with any more traffic, it is already at capacity. It has 10 roundabouts and six sets of traffic signals. It cannot take trunk road traffic.

Any widening work on the existing motorway will wipe out dozens of homes and expose more to pollution, affecting the lives of hundreds of families along the route. Where is the environmental concern at these problems? Wait until they start with the maintenance backlog - South Wales will grind to a halt.

MH said...

Anon, I'm bemused. We only need to reduce the HGV traffic on the M4, not "remove" it. I'm sure you'll substantiate your figures if they're important ... but yes, transferring 10% of freight from road to rail seems a reasonable enough figure to aim for, at least for now.


And as for your comments addressed to Penddu, let me give my answer. I'm not sure where you get "time and time again" from, but the results that come out of any study depend on the assumptions that you make about things like growth in traffic and the importance of other forms of transport. Some of the assumptions made 20, or even 10, years ago are no longer relevant.

I don't think you're right about the SDR being "already at capacity" either. But the upgrades being proposed will increase its capacity, so that it is better able to reduce pressure on the M4.

Finally, it seems bizarre for you to say that any widening of the existing M4 will cause problems. Surely building a brand new motorway would have been far MORE destructive.

Anonymous said...

@MH, sorry to bemuse you with a typo but I think you caught my drift. I agree that it would be fantastic to reduce the HGV numbers on the motorway by 10% or more, but the railway does not have the capacity to increase freight by the 100% needed to achieve this (check the record of the plenary debate on 15th July for the figures). To provide this capacity would take enormous sums and would make hardly any difference to the amount of traffic on the motorway in any case.

The Assembly doesn't want to build more and more roads - they then have to find money to maintain them you see, but roads are essential to the economy of the country. Again, check the plenary debate record for comments by the TUC labelling the new M4 around Newport "by head and shoulders, the most key route and scheme for the economy. …it is hard to see another scheme which is of such economic importance." I don't know what your focus is but I'm one for sustainable development - economic, social and environmental factors are equally important. The Assembly has spent millions of pounds looking into the problems, trying everything they can but the only real option is a new motorway. Wyn Jones' big announcement was the electrification of the railway to Swansea. That doesn't take the traffic off the road, and anyway that's a UK govt scheme, not WAG's and the tories will scrap that plan sometime around May next year. Where do we go from there?

Have you driven the SDR at peak time? It's great on a Sunday but other than that it's creaking already and it's not even 5 years old. There's 35 years left on the PFI contract. The Assembly told Newport they couldn't have grade separated junctions, and now they want to divert trunk road traffic onto a road with, I repeat, 10 roundabouts and six sets of traffic signals oh, and 30mph zones. It cannot be improved enough to take motorway traffic.

I'm afraid I don't share your apathy toward the families whose lives will be blighted by the increasing pollution and disruption from the existing motorway. The New M4 would have had to comply with European environmental law in its design and construction, with a full Environmental Impact Assessment and appropriate mitigation measures for any negative affects.

An important point that Wyn Jones failed to comment on is the maintenance backlog. The motorway is falling to bits because they've been waiting for nearly 20 years to divert the traffic onto the new motorway before starting major roadworks (even the work they're doing at the moment is small fry in comparison). Wait until they close the tunnels for weeks or months at a time and try to squeeze 100,000 vehicles a day through one lane in each direction. Who on earth would want to invest in Wales when the main road in is closed?

MH said...

I'm aware of what William Graham said in the debate, but there is nothing I can see in the CAF report (which he appeared to be referring to) which backs up his 10%/100% claim. You, however, go further still and maintain that the railway does not have the capacity to increase freight by 100%. Substantiate these claims.

You then go on to make strange claims about the Assembly not wanting motorways because they have to be maintained. And make the yet stranger claim that the current M4 is falling to bits and that major roadworks have been outstanding for nearly 20 years.

And you seem to think there will be "increasing" pollution and disruption from the existing M4. Why should it increase? It will surely get no worse than it is now, and can only improve as vehicle emission standards improve.

My main point remains the same. Why build a new six lane motorway when the very most that could be needed in terms of capacity is another two lanes? Any more is overkill.

Anonymous said...

Have a look at the Ministerial Advisory Group phase 2 report on Transport: Freight transport demand in Wales = 13.3 billion tonne kilometres by Road versus 1.1 by Rail. I'm not aware if Mr Graham has any more detailed stats on freight movements along the M4 corridor, but I note that no-one in the chamber refuted or even challenged his comment.

You haven't actually refuted any of my comments about the condition of the existing road or the Assembly's need to find money for maintenance. Perhaps you could do an FoI request to the Assembly on the backlog and see what they say. Alternatively, if it makes you feel better you could pretend that I'm wrong and wait to see how long it takes them to put carriageway closures through the tunnels. Remember those tragic collisions in 2007 and the resulting disruption? That was when IWJ said he was fully committed to building the new M4 to prevent such problems in future. People were stuck in gridlock for hours. That's what it's going to be like... every day.

I agree that vehicle emissions standards will improve but not quickly enough. 15 - 20% of a cars emissions are produced during manufacture so (according to the Transportation Research journal) the optimal time to replace a car is after 19 years. We would be increasing our net CO2 emissions if we replace them before this. So the choice is to either leave the old cars on the road, which will provide increased pollution as congestion increases (and it will if I'm right about the roadworks), or introduce newer vehicles that increase our overall CO2 output. What they could have doen to reduce pollution is built a new motorway and moved at least 60% of the traffic off the existing M4 onto a road built to stringent EU environmental laws that would have CPO'd any properties affected by it in a way that they didn't in 1967. Instead the DoT left us with a legacy of a substandard motorway squeezed within metres of existing properties at St Julians and Malpas (mainly), and seven Air Quality Management Areas between junctions 24 and 27 (

You're very keen on substantiation of my comments, but you have seemingly accepted without question IWJ's assertions that there are other options to reducing demand, such as improving the SDR and using park and ride. Why don't you demand the same substantiation from him? The "package of measures" he spoke about is no more than a few nebulous "ideas" - they don't have any developed plans based on rigorous engineering advice and evidence. All the advice and evidence points to a new motorway as the only realistic option. The only problem is that we can't afford it. Again, if you're really interested you could FoI the advice regarding alternatives to the new M4. If their response makes more than two sides of A4 I would be surprised.

MH said...

You're the one who made the assertions, Anon, and now you are making yet more. You seem quite determined to over-dramatize the issues.

I think the existing M4 is, as motorways go, generally quite satisfactory. I'm not aware of any maintenance issues that threaten to close it. We just need to do the maintenance that's needed when it's needed, and it will serve us perfectly well for the foreseeable future. It doesn't need to be replaced.

As for cost, I think you've misunderstood completely. The only model under which a new M4 was ever viable was as a PFI/PPP scheme. In capital terms, that wouldn't cost the Welsh Government anything. The package of improvements to the SDR and Llanwern private road proposed will. So cost was not the issue.

If I might say so, you seem not to be able to accept that we elect our representatives in order to make decisions of this sort. That's what democracy is all about.

I think the Welsh Government has made the right decision. Of course you're quite entitled to disagree, but you add yet more unsubstantiated claims in every post you make ... which leads me to conclude that you're just being silly.

Anonymous said...

MH, the ad hominen attacks don't make the issues I have raised go away. I'll keep the debate to the issues though for anyone interested.

Your personal opinion on the condition of the existing motorway is of no consequence. It is, objectively, substandard. The M4 is responsible for seven AQMA's. I don't think that can be considered satisfactory to anybody with any sense of compassion for the people affected by the health implications of poor air quality (an environmental impact). The congestion on the M4 restricts access to jobs and services as far afield as Abergavenny and Merthyr and the accident rate is higher than average for a motorway (social impacts), and businesses will be put off investing in Wales by the congestion (economic impact). Many people may be happy about these things, I'm not. I would like 60% of the vehicles to be taken off the motorway to help solve all of these problems. I regret that IWJ does not have a plan to reduce demand for the motorway and thinks that some "ideas" will do the trick.

You have misunderstood the cost issue, not me. The only model that the new M4 was ever financially viable was as a toll road, I agree. However, if it could have been built as a toll road it would have been, many years ago. But tolling the road would never have worked, IWJ has said himself - a toll at the Severn Crossing and another one at Newport = no chance. So they had to look at funding it directly and found that it was unaffordable.

This is indeed a democracy and I respect the right for the Deputy First Minster to make decisions I don't agree with, but I do expect as an absolute minimum that his major decisions are based on strong evidence, don't you?

It would be refreshing if you could provide some substantiation of your comments - how much traffic will be taken off the motorway by the "package of improvements"? Where can I find the evidence that backs this up? What "improvements" will be made to the SDR exactly? Can you confirm on what basis you think major maintenance can be done on a road that carries over 100,000 vehicles a day in two lanes in each direction without causing massive disruption? Just because you don't know about the maintenance backlog doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

One other point - about building a smaller road instead of a six lane motorway. That sort of thinking was de rigueur in the 1960s when the decision was made that the Severn bridge would be only two lanes. This saved about £3M on the cost of the bridge compared to having three lanes. As a result of this decision, the UK government had to spend over £330M building the Second Severn Crossing. Similarly, but to a lesser extent, when they built the M4 north of Cardiff at two lanes saving relative pennies on the cost of three. We have just spent about £80M widening that road.

MH said...

Just to take one example, you said:

"People were stuck in gridlock for hours. That's what it's going to be like ... every day."

I think that is a perfect example of you being over-dramatic and silly. If you don't like being criticized for saying such things, then it would have been better for you not to say them.

With each post, you're trotting out more and more unsubstantiated claims. My suggestion would be to cut the emotive language, and address one point at a time with evidence to back up what you claim (preferably in the form of a link) together with why you think it is relevant.

Anonymous said...

You ask me to substantiate comments and I give you references like the MAG report and You have not responded to these. Do you disagree with these references? Can't you google them? You haven't responded to my specific request for sunstantiation of the SDR improvement and park and ride ideas, and the evidence supporting these.

Look, I would love it if you were right on this, but I fear that you are wrong. If you are truly interested in a successful independent Wales you would FoI the information I have suggested and challenge this decision with every fibre of your being.

MH said...

You brought in the MAG2 report to substantiate a claim that the railway does not have the capacity to increase freight by 100%. It says nothing of the sort. You had previously said that this figure was given in the debate on 15 July. That was completely untrue.


You used the site to say there were 7 AQMAs. No-one is disputing that they exist (although 2 are not adjacent to the M4). But the second point I made was that you needed to say why your point is relevant.

You first brought up polution in the context of widening the existing M4. However the new proposal is NOT to widen the M4 (except maybe between J23 and J23a ... but the new motorway would have been far MORE disruptive).

You then talked of "increasing pollution and disruption from the existing motorway", but presented nothing to substantiate that claim. Instead you switched to the opposite and said that reducing traffic would reduce local pollution ... which is incontentious and self-evident. However the areas affected by the orginally decisions on the route of the M4 have been in that situation for some 40 years ... so what's now changing, and if nothing's changed, why is it suddenly so relevant?


Unlike you, I'm not making wild claims that I can't substantiate. What I've said is that improving the alternative "SDR+" route will ease pressure on the existing M4. Similarly, everyone that uses park and ride to get through Newport will be one less person using a car to do it.

Anonymous said...

When I said "check the record of the plenary debate on 15th July for the figures" I meant the 10% & 100% rather than the detail, apologies for this confusion. I'm afraid I don't follow what you're saying about the relevance of AQMA's though.

Let me rephrase the point about the railways. Even if the railway could double its share of the freight using the M4 corridor, there would still be 90% of the freight left on the motorway. The Government has been trying to promote the use of railways to take freight off the roads for years ( but it won't happen without significant incentives and investment in infrastructure. The Assembly does not have any developed plans on this issue ( All they have is some ideas as far as I know. If I'm wrong and you could direct me to the actual "plans", with cost forecasts, I would be most grateful.

In response to your question about what has changed in the last 40 years I answer simply "traffic growth".

I put it to you that your claims, and those of IWJ about improvements to the SDR and the efficacy of park and ride are merely "ideas". I have provided you with a series of links and references to back up several of my contentions. I would appreciate if you could do the same regarding any detailed studies, plans and cost estimates the Assembly has prepared for the SDR improvement and park and ride feasibility. I allege that they don't exist. Please refute this argument.

MH said...

You brought up the AQMA's, and I don't understand why they had any relevance either.

I'm sure we both agree that taking freight off roads and onto rail is a good thing. You claimed there wasn't the capacity to do it, I think there is plenty of capacity (it's a four line railway on the main line in this part of Wales) it just requires the right strategical thinking and the necessary investment in railports. It might interest you to know that planning permission has been granted for a rail freight terminal at Llandevenny (see Newport's UDP) which would link in very well with the new proposal. Overall, the attempt to get more freight onto rail in the UK has proved quite successful (see Figure 9 of MAG2, p110) up by 22% between 1997 and 2004, four times the growth of the EU15. But from Figure 10 on the next page you will see that the percentage for the UK as a whole (8%) is still less than half that of France (17%) and Germany (18%) , which would indicate that there is the commercial potential to double the amount we carry by rail to match.


It seems that you are keen to make some distinction between "ideas" and "plans". My answer is that I am, like you, still waiting to see the detailed plans for the SDR+. So far as I'm aware they haven't been published yet, but they must exist in enough detail for someone to have put a cost of £64m to £110m against them. I'm satisfied that the decision is right in principle, and the costs seem about right. So I'm happy to wait and see what the detail looks like and comment on it then.

As for park and ride, I mentioned similar schemes here. £6m for 350 places on 4 sites gives some idea of the costs involved. We'd be talking of just over £15m or so for two 500 place schemes, one on each side of Newport. In the UDP there are in fact two new stations on the main line that would serve park and ride close to the M4, Coedcernyw and Llanwern. Personally I'd have thought that near J23a would be a better location to the east with the new SDR+ proposal, this would then also serve the people of Magor. That of course doesn't rule out more new stations, especially for the proposed developments at the western end of the old Corus site.


Finally, be careful about your links. I'm pleased you're now supplying them, but you need to be sure that they back up the claims you're trying to make. For example your last link is to a map of Network Rail funded rail schemes, yet you were using it to say that the Assembly doesn't have any developed plans on the issue. The link didn't substantiate the point you were trying to make.

Anonymous said...

I used the AQMA argument, which you accept to be true, as an indication of the environmental problems presented by the existing motorway, substantiating my description of "pollution". You don't think a new motorway is the answer, but, as someone who seems keen on minimising the environmental impact of transport, surely you agree that we need to do something to militate against the AQMA problem?

We do agree on the need to reduce freight on the roads. Thanks for the link to the UDP, which I will take time to scrutinise. A quick perusal gives some ironic relief in the references to the benefit the M4 Relief Road will provide (clause 1.17). I admire your confidence in the ability of the railway to handle more freight, but you quote figures not exceeding 22% over a 7-year period. I think it's worth me reiterating once again that we would need almost five times this amount to reduce the freight on the roads by just 10%. I think there is a long, long way to go before we say any real reduction in freight on the roads. I actually think moving freight off the road will be easier (and less effective) than reducing the numbers of cars.

I'm glad you have picked up on the important distinction between plans and ideas as I have labelled them. I accept that the Assembly has plans to squeeze as much capacity as possible out of the motorway, that's what the £64-110M is for. They have been trying to do this for many years, but the BBC article does not describe that these plans will reduce demand for the motorway to any extent, just "improving the existing motorway" I take this to mean for example the concrete barrier they are currently building, the average speed cameras due to go in ( and the controlled motorway

I like the idea of park and ride (I use more public transport than I drive) but I can't envisage a workable solution. I think we have to either make the buses extremely comfortable so that commuters would see major advantages over being stuck in a car (bearing in mind a car takes you directly from A to B in most circumstances). They would have to provide enough space for commuters to be able to use a laptop for example as on the train. Otherwise we would have to wait for the roads to be unusable by car (i.e. let congestion build up to such an extent that motorists will take up any viable alternative). I think we need a massive culture change to lose our love affair with the car. I can see this taking generations. A new motorway on the other hand could be operational within about four years, and could provide the breathing space to phase out car use over the next 30+ years.

It would be helpful if you focussed less effort on trying to discredit and patronise me than establishing the truth about the Assembly's plans. My link was to the Welsh Assembly Government's Rail Forward Programme. This represents the plans the Assembly has for rail infrastructure improvements. Note that there is nothing on there about increasing capacity between Newport and Cardiff. The four words that you read are almost an aside - We are going to do these 24 schemes and, by the way, Network Rail are also doing something on the network.

MH said...

That I "accept to be true"? That I "have picked up on the important distinction between plans and ideas as [you] have labelled them"? Wow, you have quite a capacity for deluding yourself.

Now you're starting to talk about "the truth about the Assembly's plans" as if there were some conspiracy afoot.

I think you've become so caught up in wanting to have an argument that you don't know how to stop.

Anonymous said...

And there I was thinking we were getting somewhere! That's a pretty pointless retort which you will probably feel quite embarrassed about if you re-read the debate. I think anyone reading this page will see that I have tried to stick to the issue without getting personal. It's a shame that you haven't done likewise.

No I don't think there is a conspiracy. I think IWJ has been disingenuous for the reasons I have outlined above. I believe that the truth will come out in the next few months, particularly regarding the maintenance backlog. I know you don't believe what I say about this (although I have suggested a way you could find out if you really wanted to know). But if you could imagine the scenario that I am right, that the motorway will be reduced to contraflow through the tunnels for months at a time. Do you seriously think that this won't be a problem for the country as a whole? The only way this won't be a problem is if at least 50% of the traffic is removed (on the basis that only half the traffic needs half the motorway).

I suppose it's too much to ask for an apology from you about the patronising, and entirely incorrect, comment about my link to the RFP?

Anonymous said...

I think that MH's silence shows that he's lost the argument. He won't listen to the opinions of others and is patronising, pedantic and tiresome.

The case for a new M4 is overwhelming and IWJ is definitely being disingenuous and not telling the complete truth. Wales will grind to a halt without it.

Unknown said...

@ Anonymous - to avoid this getting really confusing (I'm the "Anon" that MH thinks is delusional and last posted on 01 August 2009 14:39) I have registered a googlemail account in honour of our friend's opinion of me. I can't argue with your description of our friend but I find his pedantry rather amusing. My favourite was his post of 31 July 2009 01:53 where he berated me about my link which he (totally incorrectly) claimed "didn't substantiate the point [I was] trying to make". This was two paragraphs after he had confidently informed me that the plans for the SDR improvements "must exist in enough detail for someone to have put a cost of £64m to £110m against them" and proceeded to include a link to an article that totally failed to substantiate this.

That said, and I'm disappointed with myself for breaking my personal promise not to get personal, I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt about not replying. I'm assuming that he is feverishly researching the plans for the SDR and the maintenance issues on the motorway. He will return with his findings in due course I'm sure.

I do wish that when he returns he will avoid further personal attacks and focusses on the issue at hand, and actually refutes my arguments. It doesn't matter if I am delusion, if I am a conspiracy theorist or simply an idiot. The issue is bigger than any one of us. If IWJ has made the mistake I think he has and we see gridlock on the motorway during maintenance work extending for a period of months or years then I certainly won't derive any satisfaction from winning an argument on this blog. If there was any other solution than a new motorway I would take it, but it would need to be a solution that doesn't, at best, hamstring our economy for a generation. That's what I fear will happen if the Assembly can't get at least 50,000 vehicles off the existing motorway.

Unknown said...

As we continue to wait for the definitive position from MH, I thought I might attempt to demolish another of his arguments; that of the efficacy of park & ride and the SDR improvement "idea". The M4 around Newport carries over 120,000 vehicles per day (vpd) according to the South Wales Trunk Road Agency ( I contend that the Assembly will need to reduce this figure by half in order to facilitate lengthy contraflows, remember - half the motorway can take only half the amount of traffic. That's at least 60,000 vpd. MH quotes "over £15m or so for two 500 place schemes, one on each side of Newport". I will be generous and say that 100% of the P&R users would otherwise have driven on the motorway, albeit in reality one would have thought most users of P&R around Newport would have been travelling into Newport (along the A48 from J28 and the SDR from J24). So for over £15M we get a maximum reduction of 1000 vpd.

The Assembly "hopes" the SDR improvement will encourage diversion of 10% of the traffic from the motorway. That's a whopping 12,000vpd (at the very best estimate) and we've been given no clue as yet (but MH is working on it) regarding the cost of this proposal. Add this to the P&R reduction and we're left with a trifling 47,000 too many vehicles per day on the motorway.

Just where can we hide 47,000 vpd to enable major works without crippling congestion like this or this

Anonymous said...

Well done, Del, for keeping up the pressure. I found his ad hominem attacks on you amusing as well. It doesn't matter who says it, the important thing is that we don't let this matter rest.

What you say is true, and if MH doubts that you have the truth of it, its small wonder that he doesn't do a FoI request to find out for himself that you are right. Guess what? I don't think he will. He'd be much too scared about being proved wrong.

If he doesn't answer, it only goes to prove that he was talking out of his rear end. He must have a severe flatulence problem.

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