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

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

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

I agree with my hon. Friend. The A55 project is overdue, as is the M4 project, and I will go on to make the same point about the dualling of the A40 in my constituency. There is a shopping list of projects that need to happen for the Welsh economy’s benefit.

I recognise that big infrastructure projects are challenging, costly and controversial, that they require difficult trade-offs with other priorities, and that important environmental and conservation issues have to be taken into account, but they are still essential for improving the productivity and economic wellbeing of our nation. Two things are vital for any nation that wants to throw off the shackles of poverty: investment in skills and investment in high-quality infrastructure to boost economic performance.

I am fed up of seeing Wales languishing towards the bottom of all UK economic league tables, and of the fact that parts of Wales are known for being poorer today than parts of the former Communist bloc. That does not have to be our future, but changing it requires making choices and taking action. Spraying grants around to attract trophy projects to Wales, or to prop up certain companies that enjoy particularly good insider relations with the Welsh Government, does not amount to an economic strategy, and is no substitute for choosing to take difficult decisions about investing in long-term infrastructure assets.

As we all know, the truth is that the M4 relief road should have been built by now and we should not be here today talking about this. It is almost 30 years since the late Peter Walker, then Conservative Secretary of State for Wales, commissioned that original south Wales area traffic survey to look at solutions for the M4. It is a full quarter of a century since a public consultation was launched on possible solutions. It is 23 years since another Secretary of State for Wales, William Hague, announced his preferred route. It is five years since former Prime Minister David Cameron and former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg went to Cardiff to announce new financial powers for the Welsh Government to enable the M4 upgrade to happen. Everyone knows that it should have been done by now, and that we should look at other key projects, such as the A55 upgrade, mentioned a few moments ago, and the dualling of the A40 between St Clears and Fishguard. Those are important infrastructure projects too, but they are stuck in the queue because of the lack of progress on the M4.

When I was an Under-Secretary of State at the Wales Office—I think it was in 2013—I was asked about the M4 upgrade. William Hague, who was Foreign Secretary at the time, was sat next to me on the Front Bench. After I had taken the question, he leant across to me and said, “Are we still talking about that? It was an issue when I was Secretary of State.” It would be a huge shame if in 20 years, when Carwyn Jones, the First Minister, is retired and in the House of Lords, a question was asked about the relief road around Newport, and Lord Jones of Bridgend leant across to whoever he was sat next to and said, “Are we still talking about that? I thought it had been dealt with during my time as First Minister.” It would be such a shame if nothing was done and people were still talking about the need for an urgent solution in 20 years.

My friendly message to colleagues of all parties in the Assembly is that we recognise that this is their decision to take, but I urge them to be bold and make a decision that is right for future generations, so we are not still talking about this decades from now. If we are not going to get the relief road built, and if the outcome of the current process is that the collective decision of the Welsh Government and Assembly Members of all parties is that it is too difficult and too controversial, and that they are going to kick the decision even further down the road, they need to be honest about that and about the consequences of that decision. Someone will probably have to walk up to the Prince of Wales bridge and plant a sign that says, “Wales is closed to future new business for the time being.”