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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:50 pm on 14th November 2018.

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Photo of Jessica Morden Jessica Morden Opposition Whip (Commons), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee) 2:50 pm, 14th November 2018

I apologise for needing to leave early, but I have to be in a Committee at 3.30 pm. I am really sorry that I will not be here for the winding-up speeches. Other hon. Members from Wales are upstairs in a Delegated Legislation Committee at the moment, and I am sure they will come down when that is finished. Thank you for letting me contribute, Ms McDonagh.

I commend Stephen Crabb for securing this debate, not least because the issue is devolved to the Welsh Assembly, and therefore no hon. Member in this Chamber will have a vote on or a direct say over it. If we respect devolution—and I do—we must respect the fact that the Assembly and the Welsh Government will make the decision on relieving congestion on the M4. Although the UK Government grant borrowing powers, that borrowing will ultimately need to be repaid by taxpayers.

I have a close constituency interest in this issue. The right hon. Gentleman rightly spoke up for businesses in Preseli and for wider Welsh interests—it is clear that the whole of south Wales has an interest in this issue, and the solutions found in Cardiff to the well-documented and horrendous traffic issues will directly affect Newport and Severnside.

As all hon. Members will agree, the M4 around Newport is a route of strategic importance and critical to the Welsh economy, but it is also an absolute nightmare for many of my constituents and businesses to navigate. If there are serious incidents—and there are, frequently—they bring our part of south Wales to a halt, causing misery for people trying to get to and from work, and resulting in a big cost to business. I have constituents, family members and friends, as well as colleagues working in my office, who commute, so I understand the cost all too well.

The M4 motorway between Magor and Castleton does not meet modern motorway design standards, yet it carries a greater volume of traffic than it was designed for. Some sections of the motorway—particularly the Brynglas tunnels and junction 29 Castleton—regularly approach near-peak capacity. That does not just cost time and money, but has a big impact on air quality.

These long-standing, continuing problems need a solution that delivers an integrated and sustainable transport system in the long term. We have been discussing solutions for 30 years. The most recent public inquiry was held up because the Department for Transport changed the way it calculated traffic forecasts. We have had a public inquiry, and we are now waiting for Government officials to finish analysing the report. Everyone has had the chance to have their say about whether this project, alongside the south Wales metro, is a long-term sustainable solution. Bodies such as the CBI, the Institute of Directors, the South Wales chamber of commerce, the haulage industry and many more have made their views clear.

My constituents, businesses and campaign groups have also set out their positions. CALM—the Campaign Against the Levels Motorway—has argued against the M4 proposals on the grounds of cost, damage to the unique environment and climate change. For businesses such as Roadchef, which runs outlets at services, the problem is that there will be no westbound access if the black route goes ahead, which means no services for nearly 50 miles. Groups such as the Gwent Wildlife Trust and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which have reserves in my constituency, describe the proposal as massively damaging for the unique wildlife and landscape. They say it is totally unsuitable and uneconomical, and that the route will destroy an irreplaceable and precious area of the Gwent levels forever.

The option outlined in the Welsh Government’s proposal is not easy and is costly. It will affect communities such as Magor, which have been blighted for many years, and run across sites of special scientific interest, but I recognise that alternative routes would bring even more traffic close to communities in the city of Newport.

The public inquiry has gathered all that evidence, and the inspector’s report is with Ministers. The Welsh Government have committed that the report will be open to scrutiny, debate and a vote by AMs before the final decision is made. It will then be up to those elected to the Welsh Assembly to make the decision. I do not envy them that, but that is the process. If the decision turns out to be no, alongside the no there will need to be a comprehensive plan, as demand for private and public transport is set to increase by at least 150% by 2030. We need something like the metro, but more of it and quickly. The south-east Wales metro can certainly help the process by providing the basis for modern, forward-looking and integrated public transport infrastructure for Gwent.

In my constituency, there has been a 103% increase in demand at the Severn Tunnel Junction railway station in the past decade. Services are overcrowded and unreliable, and commuters are frequently not able to board trains to work. Ministers can support the economy of south Wales and help my constituents get to work by addressing the issues they are actually responsible for and sorting out rail capacity on cross-border services. This issue is devolved, but cross-border services are in the Government’s hands.

On the question of addressing growing demand for public and private transport in south Wales, my Newport East colleague in the Assembly, John Griffiths, has spoken of the need for better traffic management to accompany new, better public transport. My other Newport Labour colleague, Jayne Bryant, AM for Newport West, rightly said that inaction is not an option and that doing nothing would be hugely costly for residents, businesses and commuters. They are both right.

People who regularly use the M4, and people who do not, want politicians to make an informed decision with all the facts at their disposal. I do not envy Assembly Members that decision, but I know they will make it with integrity after careful consideration.