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) in 2016. 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 submitted written evidence to the public inquiry objecting to the proposal on the basis that the new section of motorway would cut through four of the Gwent Levels Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), destroying and fragmenting habitats. It would have destroyed the area used by a pair of common crane which has returned to breed on the Levels (the first in Wales for 400 years) and it would have jeopardised the future of one of the UK’s rarest bees, the shrill carder bee.
The proposal ran contrary to the Welsh Government's specific legal duties relating to SSSIs and its duties to biodiversity under the Environment (Wales) Act 2016. It was 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.
The Public Inquiry ran from February 2017 to March 2018. In summary the Inspector concluded that whilst there was an unavoidable adverse impact on the Gwent Levels SSSIs this, weighed against the vital national infrastructure importance of the proposals, meant the wider benefit of the M4 Relief Road would not have a "disproportionate adverse impact". The Inspector therefore allowed the proposal.
The scheme then went to the First Minister and at this stage Mark Drakeford AM held that whilst the scheme was no longer financially viable in any case, he, as First Minister, disagreed with the Inspectors decision and afforded greater weight to the environmental impact. In his judgement the projects adverse impact on the environment outweighed the advantages of the new road.