Public Sector Focus

12.09.19

Investing in Newport’s infrastructure

Source: PSE: Aug/Sep 19

With £1bn available to solve the area's traffic issues, Debbie Wilcox, leader of Newport City Council, discusses balancing improvements to the M4 motorway with the interests of Newport itself.

Newport occupies a critical position as the gateway to South Wales, but its position on the M4 creates both opportunities and challenges. 

As a city, we are experiencing a wave of confidence as businesses and developers flock to invest in Newport, while more people want to live here. 

Part of the attraction is that fantastic position on the M4 corridor, but the growth of the city also means more vehicles on our roads and more congestion. 

Since it opened more than 50 years ago, it has been an important route to and from Newport. Soon after it opened, however, it was apparent that the levels of traffic had grown considerably since the planning stages and it had to be widened from two lanes to three. 

The exception to this expansion work was the Brynglas Tunnels. At the time of construction, this must have been a feat of engineering – going through a hill, they are the only twin-bored motorway tunnels in the UK – but they were to become one of the major bottlenecks on the M4.

 As well as the problems that congestion can cause for businesses and car users, it also gives rise to health concerns. 

Recently, the Welsh Government decided that temporary 50mph speed limits on the M4 through Newport would become permanent in an attempt to cut nitrogen dioxide emissions. 

As a council, we have consistently worked to influence a solution to the M4 congestion issue that is the most appropriate and beneficial for the city, businesses and residents, and that will continue. 

Newport City Council supported the M4 relief road but understands the strong feelings generated by the arguments for and against the new stretch of motorway. 

We recognised the decision was always going to be a delicate balance, particularly with the increasingly sharp focus on the environment and the protection needed for future generations. 

I was pleased that when first minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, announced the decision about the M4 relief road, he also gave a commitment to instigate immediate action to tackle the traffic problems in and around Newport and that work has already begun. 

The Welsh Government’s sense of urgency and pace in relation to that work is also welcome and the council is fully engaged in the process. 

While I appreciate that it is important to find a way of keeping traffic moving as freely as possible on the M4 through Newport for the benefit of the wider Welsh economy and to reduce pollution, it is also vital that any measures do not have an adverse impact on the city itself, its businesses, residents and visitors. 

The Welsh Government planned to use its £1bn borrowing facility to fund the building of the relief road if it had gone ahead. 

I was heartened to hear the pledge by the first minister that the government now intends to call on that finance to make significant improvements to the transport infrastructure around the city. 

This was reiterated by the minister for economy and transport, Ken Skates, who said the funding would be used, first and foremost, to resolve the specific congestion point in Newport. He echoed the phrase I have used, that to do nothing is not an option. 

I welcome his commitment to take a collaborative approach to finding innovative, affordable, and, most importantly, sustainable solutions as soon as possible. 

Newport City Council will continue to work with the Welsh Government, and other stakeholders, to ensure that any measures taken are in the best interests of the city as well as the rest of Wales and even further afield.

For more information

Tw: @leadernewport

W: www.newport.gov.uk/en/Home.aspx

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