Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

M4 Upgrading: South Wales — [Siobhain McDonagh in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 14th November 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Conservative, Preseli Pembrokeshire 2:30 pm, 14th November 2018

The hon. Gentleman makes a vital point, which I hope to make myself later. He is absolutely right. There is an urgency to this issue that certainly seizes the business community and that we in the House should all be aware of, too.

I am told that we are just weeks away from a binding vote on the scheme in the Senedd, with the Welsh Government due to announce their response to the public inquiry that ran from February last year to March this year. Members of this place have no reason to be neutral on the outcome of that vote. We are not disinterested bystanders. Every single current Labour and Conservative Member of Parliament from Wales stood on a manifesto commitment to fix the M4 problem. My party’s 2015 manifesto stated that a Conservative Government at Westminster

“will continue to work with the Welsh Government to deliver major improvements to the M4”.

Our track record of willingness to work to give new financial powers to Wales demonstrates that we are indeed doing that. My party’s Assembly election manifesto in 2016 contained a pledge to

“start work on an M4 Relief Road within 12 months of forming a government.”

Welsh Labour’s manifesto at that election stated:

“We will deliver a relief road for the M4”,

and its general election manifesto just last year repeated that promise to deliver a

“new relief road for the M4”.

Politicians from both major parties and at both ends of the M4 have campaigned for and made promises about the upgrade project. Furthermore, the UK Government’s responsibility for the Prince of Wales bridge, which connects this section of the M4 to the wider UK motorway network, and our decision to remove the tolls on that bridge next month, which the hon. Gentleman rightly mentioned, mean it is important for the House to debate this matter.

Just so we are clear, we are not discussing a project of special interest to just one or two constituencies. Indeed, my constituency is about as far from Newport as Newport is from London. Even so, numerous businesses in my constituency rely on being able to get through the M4 bottleneck. It is hard enough for a business to stay competitive when it is on the geographic periphery and faces additional transport costs anyway without congestion problems undermining its position further.

Mansel Davies & Son, which is probably Wales’s most important road haulage firm for the dairy industry and is the largest employer in north Pembrokeshire, runs 40 lorries each way through this section of the M4 every day. Every one of its drivers would be able to describe far better than I can the problems they face negotiating that section of the motorway. Such is the strategic importance of the M4 corridor, which links Wales to the rest of the UK, to Ireland via the ports of Fishguard and Pembroke Dock in west Wales, and, crucially, to the continental mainland, that this should be considered a project of true national significance. I am pleased that we have the opportunity to discuss it today.

The key issue is that this vital section of the M4, which is one of the most heavily used roads in Wales, is not for fit for purpose. It does not meet modern motorway design standards, and the resulting congestion causes unreliable journey times. That has direct economic impacts on south Wales. The M4 between junctions 28 and 24 was originally designed as the Newport bypass, and design amendments in the 1960s included the first motorway tunnels to be built in the UK, which are now known as the Brynglas tunnels.

This section of the M4 has many lane drops and lane gains, resulting in some two-lane sections, and it has an intermittent hard shoulder and frequent junctions. It is often congested, especially during weekday peak periods, resulting in slow, stop-start conditions, with incidents frequently causing delays. It has been like that for many years, and the problems are getting worse.

In the closing remarks to the public inquiry that ended in March this year, the Welsh Government’s QC, on behalf of Welsh Ministers, called the traffic delays a

“pressing problem demanding a solution”.

Former Prime Minister David Cameron used even more graphic terms when he visited a haulage firm in south Wales in November 2013, saying congestion on this section of the M4 acts as a

“foot on the windpipe of the Welsh economy”.

Strong words—but he only echoed the kinds of words that businesses right along the south Wales corridor use about the M4.

The managing director of a major south Wales haulage firm told me recently that this section of the M4 is becoming a “no-go area”. He said:

“From 7.30 to 10 o’clock in the morning, and then from 4 o’clock to 6.30, it’s like a car park.”

He described how it often pays for his heavy goods vehicle drivers to park up at the motorway services for an hour or two to save their stipulated driving hours, so they are not used up crawling along in near-stationary traffic. That is not an efficient way of running a logistics operation. In an economy that increasingly demands just-in-time delivery, a key transport corridor that grinds to a halt twice a day is certainly bad for business.

Ahead of the debate, I received a helpful note from the Freight Transport Association, which backs the need for new investment to fix the M4 problem. It stated:

The Welsh supply chain moves goods by road much more than other modes, and so maintaining targeted roads investment is vital to securing Wales’
economic future.”

It added that

“the M4 in South Wales forms part of the Trans-European Transport Network, which provides connections throughout Europe by road, rail, sea and air. The M4 plays a key strategic role in connecting South Wales with the rest of Europe…It is a key east-west route being the main gateway into South Wales…It is important therefore that development of the M4 around Newport is not viewed as a ‘local’
issue…The strategic importance of the M4 requires that it be viewed in the national context.”

Yet the truth is that this vital route does not have a proper motorway right now. The section we are discussing would not be allowed to be built today, given that it does not meet modern design standards. CBI Wales director Ian Price said business have been “crying out” for a relief road for more than 10 years. He added:

“The M4 is responsible for two-thirds of our national GDP and a relief road is projected to return to the Welsh economy £2 for every £1 invested.”

We could spend all day talking about the different ways in which businesses in Wales are affected by the problems with the M4, and why there is such a strong economic case for investing in a relief road, but I want to flag up one of Wales’s special strengths. We are incredibly good at hosting major national and international events. It is really good for the whole of Wales that the capital city, Cardiff, is increasingly recognised as a fantastic city in which to host events such as the Champions League final, the rugby world cup, Ashes cricket tests and—depending on our taste—Ed Sheeran concerts. I would love to see the Commonwealth games come to Wales, too. We also want more of those events to spread along the south Wales corridor and involve Newport, Swansea and places further west.