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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Severn Bridges and the M4

The BBC report the view of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) that the Government should not use tolls from the Severn Bridge to fund an extension to the M4 around Newport.

The FSB quite rightly say that keeping tolls on the Severn bridges after they revert to public ownership towards the end of the decade is unacceptable, beyond the costs of maintenance.

Iestyn Davies from the FSB in Wales said: "The FSB and other organisations know what we want - a good, honest funding settlement for the people of Wales and to be able to fund the kind of projects we can't currently afford.

"The FSB's members are clearly of the opinion that tolls are a necessary evil on the Severn crossings and, if they are to be maintained in the future as is highly likely, they should simply be there to cover the cost of maintaining what are vital pieces of infrastructure for south Wales.

"What we are not prepared to see is those tolls being used as some form of cash cow to subsidise borrowing to fund an M4 relief road."

There is no doubt in my mind that the Tolls have an adverse effect on the South Wales economy and need to be reduced so as to cover only maintenance on the two bridges as soon as practical. However, there is a wider issue here as to whether the M4 extension around Newport should go ahead at all.

I understand the economic arguments for tackling the bottleneck around the M4 tunnels but experience shows that new roads quickly fill up and leave people clamouring for more. Surely the real solution is to get the local traffic off the M4, something I understood was being pursued anyway with a new road through the Tata Steel site. More investment in public transport, including an electrified local rail network would also have an impact.

And economic arguments should not be allowed to trump environmental considerations, certainly not when there are other solutions available. An M4 extension would destroy five SSSIs and severely compromise the Gwent levels, themselves developed as mitigation for the Cardiff Bay barrage.

We really do need more debate on these proposals before rushing headlong into development just because we can now borrow money to deliver it.
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