An M4 motorway diversion around Newport, sometimes called the “M4 relief road”, has been considered since the early 1980s. The Welsh Government consulted on draft Orders for the development of the diversion (also known as ‘the Black route’, following previous consultations on route options) last year. Thousands of objections were submitted, including over 5000 by RSPB supporters, and consequently the Welsh Government announced a local public inquiry which opened on 28 February 2017.
The RSPB has submitted written evidence to the public inquiry emphasising our objection to the proposal. We are objecting because the new section of motorway would cut through four of the Gwent Levels Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), destroying and fragmenting habitats. It will destroy the area used by a pair of common crane which returned to breed on the Levels last year; the first in Wales for 400 years, and it will jeopardise the future of one of the UK’s rarest bees, the shrill carder bee.
The proposal runs contrary to the Welsh Government’s specific legal duties relating to SSSIs and its duties to biodiversity under the Environment (Wales) Act 2016. It is also contrary to the requirements and the spirit of Wales’ world-leading Well-being of Future Generations Act, which calls for a new approach recognising the importance of the environment to Wales’ future well-being.
In case of the worst possible outcome – the Welsh Government eventually deciding to proceed with the development of the M4 diversity following the inquiry – we are also providing evidence as to what would be needed to mitigate and compensate for these impacts; the proposals currently offered by the Welsh Government on this score are woefully inadequate.
Wales’s Future Generations Commissioner, Sophie Howe, also spoke out against the M4 diversion in February 2017, saying:
“I believe that using the Welsh Government's borrowing powers to finance one scheme that will, at best, result in geographically, economically and socially disproportionate benefits to one part of Wales is ill-conceived. Building roads is what we have been doing for the last 50 years and is not the solution we should be seeking in 2017 and beyond. The rationale for a new road was conceived over 25 years ago with the main purpose of addressing congestion in the area. I do not agree with the basic premise that this is the 'most sustainable, long-term solution to current social, environmental and economic problems associated with this route."