Outrage over M4 relief road ‘black route’ plans

By Marcus Law in Environment

A PROPOSED £1 billion M4 relief road would cause damage to “nationally important wildlife” according to environmental groups.

A public inquiry into the plans to construct a 14-mile M4 relief road began yesterday (28th February) and is expected to last five months.

Ministers have insisted that the project is vital, with congestion on the M4 said to be holding back the economy in south Wales.

But the preferred ‘black route’ cuts across the ancient marshlands of the Gwent Levels, a haven for wildlife, leading to concern from a number of groups.

The plans, described as “ill-conceived” by Wales’ Future Generations Commissioner Sophie Howe, have been criticised by many.

A letter signed on behalf of Buglife Cymru, Butterfly Conservation Wales, Campaign for Better Transport, Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales, Friends of the Earth Cymru, Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, RSPB Cymru, Sustrans Cymru, The Woodlanders, Wildlife Trust Wales and the Woodland Trust condemns the plans.

It says the plans for the M4 ‘black route’, which would cut across eight kilometres of the Gwent Levels, would destroy ancient woodlands and habitats used by dormice, otters, bats, water voles and a pair of common cranes which became the first in 400 years to breed in Wales last year.

The letter reads: “If it [the ‘black route’] goes ahead, it will destroy ancient woodlands and miles of species rich reens and ditches whose unique ecology has developed over many centuries.

“It will destroy habitats used by dormice, otters, bats, water voles and a pair of common cranes which successfully bred on the levels in 2016; the first in Wales for 400 years.

“The proposal for a new motorway was first mooted 25 years ago; it’s no surprise that it simply does not bear up to the scrutiny of our modern understanding of sustainable development, which Wales has now brought into law.

“Welsh legislation for sustainable development and environmental management creates strong links to international commitments, recognises the critical role the natural environment plays in supporting society and the economy, and seeks to address the urgent threat of climate change.

“In this new context, the current proposal should never have reached public inquiry.”

Gwent Wildlife Trust says the proposed M4 ‘black route’ around Newport will damage their own Magor Marsh nature reserve.

In a statement on their website they say: “Pollution from construction and traffic could enter the ancient reen and ditch systems that are home to, among other wildlife, water beetles, aquatic plants, otters and water vole.

“And it will cut a dangerous divide across the Gwent Levels, right through precious habitats.

“The new elevated bridge over the River Usk will bring noise and disruption for people in south and central Newport and experts believe the new road will not solve any traffic problems.”

Many residents and landowners have now received compulsory purchase orders from the Welsh Government and the new motorway will mean the loss of 12 residential buildings, including the Grade II listed vicarage in Magor.

Yesterday (28th February), inspector Bill Wadrup told the first day of the inquiry he would hear up to 22 possible alternatives to the Welsh Government’s chosen route, including a 15-mile tunnel.

The public inquiry on the M4 relief road will finish on 21st July.

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