A waste of £15m?

One of the sillier comments of the week so far has been from the Conservatives. William Graham had just found out that £15m was spent on design development for the new M4 across the Gwent Levels in the period from 1998 to 2008 ... and called it a waste.

     Axed M4 relief road 'cost £15m' - BBC website, 24 August 2009

A simple question. Is it better to spend £15m in order to find out whether or not a road scheme is viable ... or is it better to just go ahead and build it anyway in the hope that the £15m spent on design development will somehow go un-noticed?

Actually, the second is not such a bad option ... if you're a "particular sort" of politician, that is. You simply give the go ahead on the basis that the last estimates indicated that the road would cost £350m. It then turns out, a year or so later, that the cost has almost tripled. Too late to do anything about it then, of course. And anyway, who is going to notice or care about £15m when the cost has gone up by £650m?


As William Graham found out, more than half the cost has been spent in the past two years. So he sees an opportunity for a bit of mischief making by asking exactly when the decision to scrap the scheme was made.

Gosh, that's hard to work out!

By what must seem to the Conservatives to be nothing more than a coincidence, it was in 2007 that Plaid Cymru came into government and, specifically, that Ieuan Wyn Jones became minister in charge of transport policy.

It seems obvious to me that this money was spent going back over the presumptions and assumptions made about the new motorway in previous years to see whether they were robust or not. The answer that came back was very clearly that the scheme was not viable, and that there were better alternatives to solve the problem.

Only a "particular sort" of politician would blindly press ahead with the original scheme in such circumstances. Thankfully, Ieuan Wyn Jones is not one of them.

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MH said...

P.S. The leader in the yesterday's Western Mail said that this "underlines the danger of performing a U-turn when the engine has been revving for several years".

Quite the opposite. Doesn't it underline the danger of NOT performing a U-turn when it becomes obvious that the basis upon which the scheme had been proceeding is no longer valid?

Unknown said...
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MH said...

I've deleted the comment by "delusional" because I have no time for a confrontational method of arguing which deliberately misrepresents what I have written in order to disagree with it.

Judging by his perfomance on the last thread, he will no doubt repeat the same things and resort to personal abuse as yet another "anonymous". If so, I will delete them again.

But if he can write a post without the distortions and misrepresentations, I'll let it stand.

Sweet and Tender Hooligan said...


With you on this - surely it is braver to pull back from making a larger 'mistake' (i am not convinced of the alternatives at the moment - i live in torfaen work in chepstow).

Unknown said...

I will repeat only those issues that you have failed to refute MH:

1. There is a significant maintenance backlog on the motorway ("new+m4"+%2B+public+accounts&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk) clause 3.6. It has been building up for 20 years because the Assembly has been committed for that length of time to constructing the New M4

2. That work will need 60,000 vehicles per day to be removed from the motorway otherwise there will be severe economic consequences for Wales. There is no plan to remove this number of vehicles. the best they can do (being overly generous) is remove 13,000 vpd.

3. The New M4 was scrapped only because it was unaffordable

4. IWJ was fully committed to the New M4 in late 2007 - after he took the Transport portfolio. He was content to continue spending millions of pounds designing the scheme.

5. WAG's cost estimate of £64- 110M is for improvements to the existing motorway and not related to the SDR idea. There is no cost estimate or programme or anything for that idea.

6. Park and ride will not take enough traffic off the road to enable the major roadworks in 1 above to be completed. Instead, we need a major cultural change to lose our love affair with the car. This won't happen within this generation. The roadworks will. When they start, the country will suffer economically, socially and environmentally (increased pollution from massive congestion)

Unknown said...

That link at item 1 in the above post is cumbersome I admit. This one is better: http://www.sewta.gov.uk/Board%20Meetings/October07/Agenda.pdf

I don't want to be confrontational and I apologise for any insults (though I think you are crediting me with too many - I was the Anon on the other debate only until 1st Aug. Thereafter I have posted only as Delusional).

There are very real issues associated with the scrapping of the New M4. Please don't pretend they don't exist. I think it is worth me quoting the pertinent information from the above link:

"the accumulation of major maintenance works that had built up since 1989, and at some point potential full depth reconstruction of lengths of the carriageways would be necessary. This could not be carried out without major traffic restrictions such as all day contra-flow or lane closures over prolonged periods; it would not be possible to carry out the works with night time closures... the economic consequences of such traffic measures, or of the M4 failing if the maintenance was not carried out, would be severe."

MH said...

Very much better, Delusional. Thank you.

Your logic is quite unique. You make unsubstantiated claims, then think that it is up to me to "refute" them by doing research to prove you wrong. You assume that if I don't take the trouble to show that you are wrong, then your claim must be right.

It doesn't work that way. If you make a claim, it's up to you to back it up.


1. You have at last managed to back up your claim (after 4 weeks). However, the statement in the document you refer to talks of "all day contra-flow or lane closures over prolonged periods". That is not unusual for any motorway. It doesn't REQUIRE a new, parallel six lane motorway to be built. Even by your own rough calculations, only ONE additional lane in each direction would be required to avoid any delay during roadworks. That could never justify building an additional three lanes in each direction permanently.

2. Your 60,000 is does not taking into account the hourly variation in traffic flow, but that probably doesn't much matter. It means that traffic on the M4 will still get through, but the delays at peak times will be extended. Other traffic will use alternative routes, but will of course be delayed because of others doing the same thing. However it will be all be over in a few weeks or months. If you are simply making the general point that closing lanes for maintenance will cause delay, nobody (least of all me) has or would disagree with you. The same thing happens on every motorway or major road everywhere.

3. I have already commented on that assertion.

Word limit. Comment to be continued ...

MH said...

... comment continued.

4. This is a demonstrably false assertion. In your deleted post you backed it up with this link. Again, it failed to substantiate the point you were trying to make. It actually says:

Mr Jones told BBC Wales: "There will be a business case looked at this year, and IF THAT IS A ROBUST BUSINESS CASE then there's a POSSIBILITY of a business inquiry in 2009 then hopefully we could start the work in 2010, with an anticipated completion date of 2013."

By no stretch of imagination is that being "fully committed".

However I do think it fair to say that there was a general expectation that the road would be build, especially after 2004. I think it might also be possible to say that things such as design development progressed on the assumption that it would be built. However, at no stage was the £340m original price ever updated. It was still being reported as "at least £350m" in 2005, some seven years after the cost exercise was conducted.

Now this raises an interesting question. Either the Welsh Government knew the cost was rising, but didn't tell the public because they wanted the scheme to go ahead smoothly. Or they simply didn't ask. Either way, it is clear to me that when IWJ became responsible for transport, he asked that the business case (which would of necessity include the total cost) be re-examined. As a result of that diligence, it became clear that the cost that was being reported was hopelessly inadequate. The business case therefore failed.

In my opinion it would have been foolish to stop work on design development in 2007 (as would have happened if the politician concerned was ideologically opposed to the motorway) since the development of the design is the most important element in firming-up how much a project will actually cost. IWJ was content to let enough money be spent to show whether the scheme was viable or not. £8.4m over two years may sound a lot, but it's a lot cheaper than making a commitment to build the scheme without an up-to-date assessment of the cost.

5. The link I gave previously does not back up your assertion. Again, it says exactly the OPPOSITE of what you claim:

"... the assembly government would instead spend between £64m and £110m improving the existing M4 network.

Measures would include improvements around Tredegar Park junction, the Brynglas tunnels and the Coldra roundabout, bringing into public use a seven-mile dual carriageway through the Corus site in Newport, and improving the southern distributor road through Newport."

6. Whoever claimed it would? Park and ride is simply one part of a package of measures.


The above was written before I saw your second post. In response to it, your apology is accepted, and your tone is welcome, but please continue to be more careful than you were in the other thread. If you want to progress the discussion, please do so. I'll respond if I think you've added anything of value. But repeating the same thing over and over, or dragging in quite irrelevant points to prolong an argument is pointless.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
MH said...

You've overstepped the mark again, Delusional.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unknown said...

Ok, I'll try it without the last sentence. I don't see what you can object to about the rest of it. There is nothing personal or abusive about it. I'm arguing only about the issue:

1. The important difference compared to other motorways is that the M4 through Brynglas tunnel has only two lanes and no hard shoulder. The contraflow at the J29-32 widening has two lanes open in each direction and has resulted in manageable delays. One lane contraflow will, as described by WAG, result in severe economic consequences as I have argued.

MH said...

Yes. There will be delays while maintenance works are done, and that will have an economic effect. Who's arguing?

Now that you've edited out the other parts of the previous comment, all that's left is a repeat of what you've already said and I've already answered.

Be careful. If you carry on like this I will ban you by deleting any comment you make on any subject. Final warning.

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