South East Wales

Welsh Government 'misleading' public over M4, inquiry told

M4 in Newport
Image caption The Welsh government has backed a six-lane motorway to run south of Newport

The Welsh Government has been accused of "sexing up" benefits of the M4 relief road and "misleading" the public.

Former Welsh Green Party leader Pippa Bartolotti has also raised concerns about the environmental impact.

She was speaking at the public inquiry in Newport into proposals to build the 14-mile section from Magor.

The Welsh Government's project manager rejected the accusations and said its information was "backed up".

The government has claimed the £1.1bn motorway would bring a £1.62bn direct benefit to Wales.

But Ms Bartolotti disputed the administration's claims over the proposed six-lane route.

She criticised a Welsh Government leaflet, stating it amounted to a "public misinformation campaign".

She said some of the facts contained in the document about economic benefits, jobs and environmental impacts were "exaggerated", "withheld" or in some cases "fiction".

Image caption Pippa Bartolotti said claims by the Welsh Government about the benefits of the M4 relief road were "misleading"

Ms Bartolotti said all costs and expenses to date surrounding the preferred option - the so-called black route - should be referred to the Wales Audit Office for examination.

"We do not want Wales to reduce to a Brexit style environment," she said, on the first day of objectors' cases on day 15 of the hearing.

She argued that freedom of information request responses about the M4 plans raised questions over the Welsh Government's claims.

"The basis for building a stretch of new motorway at the cost of £1.2bn plus is discredited by these figures," she said.

"How can it be that such figures are put forward by our own government, to our own people, to reduce opposition to the plan?"

The Welsh Government says a 14-mile six-lane motorway will relieve congestion between the current M4 junction 23A at Magor to junction 29 near Castleton.

Image copyright BBC/Google

But Ms Bartolotti expressed concerns about the impact on the environment, saying any extra road would "enviably increase green house emissions"

She said claims:

  • 6,500 new jobs would be created was the "high scenario" and "remote" with an FOI highlighting the low scenario was 750 jobs
  • Air quality figures were misleading and did not take into account increased congestion from Cardiff and the wider impact of increased traffic on pollution
  • Claims journey times would be cut by 10 minutes were wrong as the majority would only see between a 3.5 and five minute reduction

But project manager Matt Jones said the information from the Welsh Government was part of an engagement campaign, and not misleading.

He said a disputed infographic, issued in September 2015, was accompanied by more detailed documents that people could refer to, along with public exhibitions of the plans.

"We were very confident they would be challenged and made sure they were backed up," he said.

"We were as flexible as possible in terms of giving people access to information".

The M4 relief road key points:

The Welsh Government wants to build a £1.1bn six-lane motorway to the south of Newport.

The 14.23m (23km) highway will be between the current M4 junction 23A at Magor to junction 29 near Castleton.

The Welsh Government plans to begin construction in 2018 and open the new road in 2021.

The Welsh Government said the current M4 around Newport, opened in 1967, "does not meet modern motorway design standards".

Environmental campaigners and local residents claim the scheme will devastate the ancient marshlands of the Gwent Levels and four sites of special scientific interest.

There have been 335 formal objections, compared to 192 letters of support.

A public local inquiry is expected to last five months.

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