M4 relief road: No tolls planned, Welsh government says

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Media captionThe M4 does not currently conform to modern motorway standards

Drivers would not be charged a toll to drive on a proposed M4 relief road in south Wales, the Welsh government has said.

The BBC has been told the Treasury is backing plans to build a new stretch of motorway around Newport.

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

However, the Welsh government said introducing a toll to pay for the road would be "unfair" and "unworkable".

It 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 is vital for the economy.

Loan payments

Press reports on Tuesday said Chancellor George Osborne would announce plans to support a new motorway in June's comprehensive spending review.

The Times and Independent newspapers both said funding for a relief motorway would be guaranteed by the Treasury to allow the Welsh government to build the road.

The devolved administration would then repay the loan, but the Welsh government said it had no plans to impose tolls on any roads and that the idea had not been discussed with the UK government.

Instead, the two administrations have discussed what will happen to the money raised by the tolls on the Severn bridges in future.

The two crossings over the Severn between Wales and England are operated by a private company whose concession is due to end in 2018.

At that point the Welsh government wants to take control of the M4 and M48 crossings.

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."

The source added: "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."

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."

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

Economic case

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

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

However, 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.

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.

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