M4 relief road: Chancellor 'to approve toll plan'

M4 traffic near the Brynglas tunnels Plans for an M4 relief road were first announced in 2004

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Plans to build an M4 relief road in south Wales are being backed by the Treasury, the BBC has been told.

It follows press reports that Chancellor George Osborne will announce plans to support a new toll motorway in June's comprehensive spending review.

However, the Welsh government said it does not plan to impose tolls on Welsh roads and called the idea "unworkable".

A Westminster source said agreement in principle had been reached but a deal on funding was not finalised.

The Welsh government dropped plans for an M4 relief road around Newport in 2009 after the cost rose to £1bn.

Talks have been continuing between the UK and Welsh governments about ways to fund improvements to the M4 in south Wales, which business leaders say are vital for the economy.

Start Quote

It's worth pointing out though that the M6 Toll in the Midlands... hasn't ever made any money. People won't pay it”

End Quote Mickey Clarke Financial journalist

Reports in The Times and Independent say that funding for a relief motorway will be guaranteed by the Treasury to allow the Welsh government to build the road and then to repay the loan at least in part by raising tolls.

A Downing Street spokesman said: "Any decisions on future schemes would be taken following the spending review.

"Tolling the M4 in Wales would be a matter for the Welsh Assembly."

A Welsh government source said: "A toll road idea has not formed any part of the inter-governmental talks that have taken place between the Welsh and UK governments.

"The tolling of Welsh roads is entirely a matter for the Welsh government and we have no plans to introduce tolls on any Welsh road.

"It's an unworkable idea and given the Scots are not being forced to put tolls on their new Forth Bridge, it would be unfair for Wales to be expected to re-coup the money in this way, to fund road improvements here.

"Wales is not a second-class Scotland.

"As part of the ongoing inter-governmental talks, the future of toll income from the Severn Crossings after the current concession ends, is also being discussed."

The Welsh government said it was "following due process" on the issue of easing the congestion on the M4 around Newport, and that it was continuing to press the UK government for access to borrowing powers in order to finance infrastructure investment.

The UK's only toll motorway is the 27-mile (43km) M6 Toll north of Birmingham which opened in 2003.

Employers' group the CBI has called a relief road to ease congestion on the M4 near Newport a "clear priority".

Welsh affairs editor Vaughan Roderick says some form of borrowing may be needed to fund the project

Business leaders say traffic jams, particularly after crashes which close the motorway, are bad for the economy of south Wales.

Plans were announced in 2004 for a 14-mile road to ease congestion on the M4 around Newport, between junctions 23 and 29.

The scheme was estimated to cost at least £350m and was due to open in 2013, with the possibility that it would be partly financed by tolls.

When the scheme was scrapped in 2009, its likely cost had risen to £1bn.

Ieuan Wyn Jones, then deputy first minister and transport minister, said at the time that putting tolls on the "unaffordable" proposed new road would have reduced its economic effectiveness.

Financial journalist Mickey Clarke told BBC Radio Wales: "It's worth pointing out though that the M6 Toll in the Midlands... hasn't ever made any money. People won't pay it. That's the trouble."

Start Quote

These works have been in the pipeline for many years and should be completed before we look again at a very expensive toll road”

End Quote Jonathan Edwards MP Plaid Cymru

Nick Payne, regional director of the Road Haulage Association, welcomed the idea of the proposed new motorway going ahead but was against the prospect of tolls.

He said: "The M6 Toll road hasn't been massively successful as far as the transport industry is concerned. I don't know whether or not the haulage industry in Wales can afford to be paying yet another toll after paying so much money to get across the [Severn] bridge every day."

Matt Hemsley, spokesman for the transport charity Sustrans Cymru, criticised the M4 relief road as "poor value for money", saying investment in public transport would do more to ease congestion.

"The Welsh government acknowledges that 40% of journeys on this stretch of the M4 are local trips of under 20 miles," he said.

'Save billions'

"By making it easier for people to walk, cycle and catch public transport we can ease congestion, improve our health and save the economy billions."

Environmental campaigners have renewed their opposition to an M4 relief road amid fears of damage to the Gwent Levels Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).

Tom Clarke, chief executive officer of the Gwent Wildlife Trust, said: "This would mean years of construction and pollution for the residents of Magor, Newport and Cardiff, and destruction of the nationally important Gwent Levels - and then asking them to pay for the privilege."

In February 2012 the Welsh government announced plans to turn an old access road through Llanwern steelworks into a £13m dual carriageway to link south Newport with the M4, claiming it would help relieve congestion.

Plaid Cymru economy and transport spokesperson Jonathan Edwards said he was sceptical about the proposals.

He said: "People want to lessen the impact of the tolls on those coming into south Wales, not increase it.

"These works have been in the pipeline for many years and should be completed before we look again at a very expensive toll road."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 492.

    This section of the M4 is a nightmare, 3 lanes into 2 lanes into 3 lanes, too many exits for Newport and variable speed controls.
    So I agree something needs to be done, but for those of us who commute to Bristol everyday and already pay the Severn bridge toll (£6.20) another toll seems crazy!
    There must be a better solution?

  • rate this

    Comment number 491.

    Just a couple of comments. Although I was dead against the Hwy 407 toll road they built here in Ontario, I do use it regularly as it is just soooo much quicker. My time is valuable to me, so any time saved is good.
    To spottiedog, the English didn't complain when they benefitted from 100 years of coal revenues out of the South Wales valleys. So suck it up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 490.

    so Wales is denied devolved powers to controle and generate our own power and stop utilities cartel activities even bring back welsh water how do we pay the highest water bills in UK yet we have the wettest part ???? but no thanks sir Baronet Gideon of osbourn you will give the foreigners in the west a toll road run by his chums i can understand why the Scotland will be voting yes

  • rate this

    Comment number 489.

    @ Spottie - there are some things the Government wont let go of... do your homework before your whining

  • rate this

    Comment number 488.

    4 Minutes ago
    457. cj8652

    Well those who sit doing 70 in whatever .........

    You know you are so right...., they should pull over. BUT You have not quite worked out what i was getting at.... if YOU are sitting at 70 too. they wouldn't be getting in your way. What gives you the right to break the law and them not!

  • rate this

    Comment number 487.

    Amazing how we can go about carving up sections of countryside to create a toll road, but when it comes to modernising/expanding the rail network, everyone is up in arms! And the funny thing is that despite sections of the country being returned following Beeching, people complain that Beeching was far too drastic! Funny old world...

  • rate this

    Comment number 486.

    I do a lot of motorway driving, and congestion always seems to stem from those who drive inefficiently, particularly those who lane-hog. Inevitably the existing infrastructure reaches capacity, and you have to build more roads, but tolling isn't the answer.

    I don't see the benefit in this. People won't not use it, it won't make revenue, but it will leave a big, unpaid bill for the taxpayer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 485.

    Mega investment in HS2..whilst the road network is crumbling due to lack of repair....potholes everywhere............

  • rate this

    Comment number 484.

    @Bryn_Teilo (453)

    "There is already a massive toll on the M4 crossings into Wales. [...] The sooner Wales gets its own government the better."

    Yes I saw in a separate article that the Welsh government wants the power to set the level of the bridge tolls. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-politics-20204666

    I guess that includes the M48 tolls, collected in Gloucestershire.

  • rate this

    Comment number 483.

    I live not far from the Northern Relief Toll road and it's hardly used. A massive waste of money and ruined countryside. At the rate the cost of living's rising and people's incomes are dropping this will be another white elephant. Osborne keeps droning on about the 'mistakes of the previous government'. Perhaps he should take some of his own advice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 482.

    Nah, I own my own company (which I built from scratch... at significant financial risk and countless unpaid hours, lost weekends etc.). So these days, if I want to take half an hour out - I can. I've earned it."
    That's OK then ... just didn't want anybody walking off with your ladder and bucket while you were distracted!

  • rate this

    Comment number 481.

    Why is it OK to publicly fund a pair of tunnels carrying the A3 under the Devil's Punch Bowl in Surrey at a cost in excess of £370m; all for aesthetic, environmental and political reasons but propose tolling an M4 relief in Wales? There was no economic benefit gained from the English tunnel. The M4 Relief would be of huge economic benefit to South Wales. Explain that one Mr Osborne!

  • rate this

    Comment number 480.

    To those on the EUphile left who suspect Tories are lining their corporate backers' pockets...you might well be right, but remember, France and other EU countries operate tolls.

    And UKIP opposes them, because they're a crap idea.

  • rate this

    Comment number 479.

    Reinhard , your low cost train fairs are also part paid for by my expensive UK train travel card....

  • rate this

    Comment number 478.

    "I myself as an ex traffic cop, "

    Hmm, I'm sceptical.
    /reads on

    "...am happy to use the motorway lanes correctly. I also disaprove of people hogging the middle lane. But you will often notice they are sitting at 70 mph, and its the conceted..."

    Actually no, fair enough - an entirely authentic post.

  • rate this

    Comment number 477.

    Driving is essential to our economy. The quicker they have a little bit of heart (or maybe common sense) and stop grinding the motorist into the ground the better we'll all be. The only other option I can see is providing fast, reliable, cheap and comprehensive public transport but that's obviously a much more expensive solution.

    Cheaper transport means lower inflation and more spending power.

  • rate this

    Comment number 476.

    Most people in the UK haven't a clue how to drive on a motorway anyway!
    The two inner lanes are empty; and move a lot faster than the congested outside lane.

  • rate this

    Comment number 475.

    What - ~£48 billion paid in by drivers, only ~£18% used on roads, and now more?

    This is not about tolls.

    It is about the current Tory agenda to sell off everything in sight to private corporate chums -.

    For roads, a nightmare vision of all UK road networks owned by various rapacious millionaires.


  • rate this

    Comment number 474.

    @58 AuntieLeft - "Nothing positive except immature generalisms.
    Just like La La Labour "

    Love the irony.

  • rate this

    Comment number 473.

    Have they tried lowering the speed limit to 55 with average speed cameras?
    It stops the power/brake/weave brigade because everyone is going at the same speed with no significant gaps and so leads to smoother traffic flow and less fuel usage.
    Start at the toll. Even if you could do 70mph, a 55 limit would only add 6 minutes to reach J33 past Cardiff, but with heavy traffic it is actually quicker.


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