An Article written by South East Wales Assembly Member Mark Reckless:
The abolition of the Severn tolls presents fantastic economic opportunities for South East Wales and beyond. With regular journeys across the river Severn now more financially viable, commuters and businesses will be able to travel between Newport and the West of England with less detriment to their wallets.
There is however, an issue which will continue to choke the South East Wales economy unless it is addressed. For businesses looking to set up in Newport, links to Cardiff are as important as links to the West of England. With the Brynglas tunnel bottleneck north of Newport, the viability of commuting or using the M4 to freight goods between Newport and Cardiff is reduced. Inflated journey times will only become worse as time passes.
It is for this reason that an M4 Relief Road is a necessary piece of infrastructure that is urgently in need of building if South Wales is going to realise its economic potential and make the most out of the opportunities that the removal of the tolls has provided. Indeed, in 2016, Welsh Labour made a manifesto pledge to deliver a relief road for the M4. However, there is no sign of it, and the Government continues to drag its feet on the issue.
Assembly Members were told last year that Carwyn Jones would make a planning decision on the Relief Road based on the extensive and expensive Public Inquiry before he left office in December. The Inquiry report was handed to the Welsh Government late last year, but was placed in the hands of lawyers and civil servants. The vote and planning decision we were repeatedly promised at the Assembly has still not happened. Mark Drakeford became First Minister in December and there is little sign he has even read the report, three months on.
I continue to worry that the Welsh Government is not intent on delivering their manifesto pledge. Even if the Inquiry report does allow for the planning decision to go ahead, I fear that many Welsh Labour AMs will vote down the financial resolution to get the process of building the road underway. This would be bad for trust in Welsh politics, but it would be even worse for the everyday lives of people who have the misfortune of having to travel on the M4 (or even roads near it) through this choke point on one of the most important parts of our national infrastructure.
South East Wales has seen significant jumps in average house prices in the most recent land registry data, with Newport (10.6%), Monmouthshire (8.8%) and Torfaen (12%) all experiencing large increases in value in the year to December. These increases enable home owners to secure business loans against their properties, just one example of the commercial opportunities that the removal of the tolls has provided. But how viable will these potential businesses be when freighting goods to and from Cardiff by road is so difficult with the current infrastructure in place?
Unless members of the Welsh Assembly put pressure on the Welsh Government to make good their manifesto promise to build a relief road for the M4, the progress we have made in removing the tolls will be hampered, as the inevitable increase in volume of traffic puts even more pressure on the Brynglas tunnels, harming businesses and commuters.