Wales politics

M4 commission will not be invited to spend £1bn, Ken Skates says

M4

A commission set-up to look at alternatives to the M4 relief road will not be invited to spend £1bn, Economy Minister Ken Skates has said.

The Welsh Government has charged Lord Burns, chairman of Ofcom, with the task of finding ways of reducing congestion.

But Mr Skates said ministers "wish to minimise public expenditure".

A Conservative AM said the position was confusing after comments from Mr Drakeford suggesting he was prepared to spend the amount.

A Welsh Government spokeswoman said there was no confusion.

First minister Mark Drakeford axed the relief road, south of Newport, in June because of its £1.6bn cost and impact on the environment.

However, he said he would not have gone ahead with it even if it was affordable, because of its impact on the Gwent Levels on which the six-lane motorway would have been built.

Instead Mr Drakeford commissioned Lord Burns to look at alternatives to the scheme, which had been pursued by the previous first minister Carwyn Jones but divided the assembly and his Labour group.

Last week Mr Drakeford told AMs that Lord Burns had the "first call" on the whole £1bn earmarked for the relief road.

At the Welsh Assembly economy committee on Mr Skates said: "The original funding envelope of the project was around about £1bn.

"The first minister has said the commission and their recommendations will be [a] priority in any consideration of that money being spent.

"However I think it should be noted that we're not going to be inviting the commission to spend a billion pounds."

He added: "We wish to minimise public expenditure, but obviously get maximum value for money."

Image caption Ken Skates said the government wished "to minimise public expenditure".

The commission still does not have members, other than the chairman. During the meeting Mr Skates said the government has a "shortlist" of candidates.

He promised an interim report from the commission at the start of the next calendar year.

Mr Skates told AMs that the first minister Mr Drakeford had placed more "weighting" on the environmental impact of the scheme than when it was first re-commissioned under former First Minister Carwyn Jones.

He said "much had changed" on environmental considerations, listing new guidance and the climate emergency among other issues.

But pressed further by committee chairman and Tory AM Russell George on what had changed on the environment, Mr Skates said: "It's the weighting that the first minister placed on the environmental impact of the scheme."

"Whilst its not necessarily that things have changed dramatically on the environmental front, the weighting has increased.

'Confusing'

Andrew RT Davies, a Welsh Conservative AM, said the position is "all rather confusing and contradictory" and accused Mr Skates of "undermining his boss's position".

"Anyone would think they're no longer speaking to one another as the mess continues on the M4, with the south Wales economy set to pay the price for Labour's incompetence," he said.

"This flip-flopping from the Welsh Labour government and reneging on commitments and promises to residents and businesses in south Wales is completely unacceptable."

A Welsh Government spokeswoman: "There is no confusion on this issue.

"We have been clear that the commission will have first call on the £1bn, which would otherwise have been spent on the M4 black route, in order to come up with solutions to congestion around Newport, and that those solutions will be rigorously tested to ensure value for money."

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