Ken Skates’ recent announcement that a decision on the long-awaited M4 relief road will be made by the end of the year was very welcome news last week.
The Economy and Transport Secretary announced that First Minister Carwyn Jones will reach an outcome before he leaves office.
This coincides with Future Generations Commissioner Sophie Howe’s recent report outlining Wales’ predicament on deciding between this much-anticipated £1.4bn M4 relief road project or introducing better public transport.
Sophie Howe describes the 14 mile (23km) route around Newport as a ‘20th Century solution to a 21st Century problem’ which will not cut congestion.
While her findings must, of course, be considered, the M4 is the artery leading in and out of South Wales and we have been debating, discussing, analysing, mulling over, re-debating and talking about it for far too long.
For the business leaders I speak to day in, day out, the message on improving the M4 is clear: get it done and get it done quickly.
We have conducted various surveys among our members for some time now, which have revealed that the M4 and major road links to north Wales still need to be drastically improved at busy junctions - congestion must be relieved and accident figures reduced.
The M4 around Newport is currently not fit for purpose and utilises some of the UK’s oldest motorway tunnels in the UK. It was built to standards and traffic flows much lower than today.
Clearly, businesses and communities will reap the rewards of a dependable M4 relief road that, rather than presenting frequent delays and congestion, will flow freely and be a thoroughfare that businesses can depend on as a crucial link between Wales and the markets and opportunities available on our doorstep.
The perennial issue of a relief road featured prominently in our Ten Point Plan for the Economy, which we presented before the last Welsh General Election, with its potential to dramatically and positively impact transports links for the Wales economy.
Many visitors and neighbours to south Wales are given an unfair impression of south Wales and an integrated transport infrastructure would alleviate this.
I have often commented on the importance of an integrated transport infrastructure and all it adds to the economy of Wales, let alone the impression it presents to our neighbours and visitors.
The delivery of an M4 relief road is probably the most important transport infrastructure project in Wales and having viewed the options, the IoD have nailed our colours the mast and that colour is black!
The black route, we believe, offers the best possible opportunity for a long term solution that will meet the challenges of today’s traffic and those of the future.
While the Commissioner believes that better public transport, could be achieved for a fraction of the cost of the proposed new motorway, this is of course, part of a wider improved network but alone would not have as much of an impact as the major relief road.
With the South Wales metro developments continuing apace and Transport for Wales pushing ahead with this work, I fear the M4 progression may get left behind. Likewise, Cardiff Airport and Qatar Airways continue to unveil ambitious plans for flights from Cardiff and they have form for delivering swiftly and efficiently.
An integrated transport infrastructure is essential for economic development and in Wales the black route is key to this and should not be underestimated.
It is exciting that Caerphilly Council has also announced its focus on increasing electric vehicles usage amid plans to create an £8 million all-electric public transport network. As part of this, Stagecoach has applied for UK Government funding to switch Caerphilly’s current diesel buses to electric operation and I will take a keen interest in this ambitious proposition.
Developed alongside Transport for Wales, these could be the UK’s first with £3.45 from the Department for Transport’s Ultra-Low Emission Bus Scheme and the remaining £4.6 million covered by Stagecoach. They could be in place by 2023 through the new Wales and Borders rail franchise.
The transport sector in Wales is a dynamic, agile industry and while we always welcome open and frank debate, for us and the IoD, the choice is clear: we need the relief road to happen and the sooner the better. We are not in need of short-term fixes but rather long-term sustainable solutions and investment.
Robert Lloyd Griffiths, Director of the Institute of Directors in Wales