Campaign Against the Levels Motorway Protest at the Senedd
Gwent Wildlife Trust has been campaigning against proposals for a new M4 relief road across the Gwent Levels for over 10 years. This nationally important area is home to a wealth of wildlife and we insist a new motorway is not the solution to the traffic problems experienced in the area.
In their latest bid to build an M4 relief road, in the Spring of 2012 the Welsh Government consulted on various measures to tackle congestion on the stretch of M4 around the city of Newport. All the options in the consultation included some sort of highway construction. The most damaging option (Option A) proposed building a new fifteen mile stretch of dual-carriageway to the south of Newport. We believe this consultation was inadequate as it did not consider any sustainable transport only options or a ‘do-nothing’ option.
In addition, the document used out-of-date traffic data, as since 2007, traffic levels on the M4 have fallen, therefore putting into question the need for damaging additional road-building on the Gwent Levels.
The Welsh Government has recently published a report, known as a Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA), assessing the environmental impacts of the above consultation. We believe this assessment should have been undertaken at the same time as the initial consultation in order to inform the options. The SEA also used out of date information and omitted important data.
The Gwent Levels is nationally important for its wildlife and designated as such especially for the rare aquatic invertebrate assemblages and wetland plants found in the network of reens across the area. The proximity of the Levels to the internationally important Severn Estuary and River Usk add further value to this wetland complex.
Some of the wildlife found on the Levels includes;
- Otters – the biggest threat to this wonderful mammal is from road kills
- Water voles – now incredibly rare the Gwent Levels are still a key area
- Breeding waders – lapwing, snipe, redshank and curlew all breed locally across the Levels, with further species on the Newport Wetlands reserve.
- 144 Nationally Notable or Red Data Book invertebrate species including water beetles and dragonflies) have been recorded from the Gwent Levels.
The Levels also supports the nationally scarce rootless duckweed (Wolffia arrhiza). This is considered to be the world’s smallest flowering plant and occurs nowhere else in Wales.
The Gwent Levels have suffered from severe development pressure over the years which has continually eroded this amazing habitat. If the proposals for road building go ahead, one of the UKs largest surviving areas of ancient grazing marshes and reen systems with its associated, unique, wildlife will be irreparably damaged.
Damage would not be limited to direct loss of habitat where the road is built; the road would create a barrier preventing the movement of wildlife between the protected areas not under concrete. In addition, the road will impede water movement between these isolated pockets and this could have a significant effect on the wetland habitat depends on. The pollution that runs off the road into the reen system could seriously affect the water quality that is so vital for the important inhabitants of the wetlands.
Gwent Wildlife Trust responded in detail to both the M4 options consultation and the SEA consultation (available for download below). We encouraged our supporters to do the same. In January 2013, together with Friends of the Earth Cymru, we wrote to the Welsh Government stating that we were willing to undertake legal action (judicial review) if they were to make a decision based on the flawed consultations.
The response from Welsh Government stated that 'The Welsh Ministers will now need to decide whether to formulate a draft plan, and, if so, which options to include within that draft plan. An environmental report will also be prepared. Any draft plan setting out the proposed measures for the M4 around Newport, and the consequential environmental report, will be published and will be the subject of consultation with statutory and public consultees in accordance with the relevant regulations.'
Effectively, this means that the Welsh Government are committed to carrying out further consultation, with the appropriate accompanying environmental proceedures.We hope that the new consultation process is informed by up-to-date data on traffic numbers, and includes 'sustainable transport only' and ‘do-nothing’ options, together with an SEA, prepared and run in parallel with the consultation, which assesses the environmental impacts of all of the options.
27th June 2013
The latest news on the progress of the Welsh Government’s bid to build the M4 relief road comes as Edwina Hart announced that the Assembly will be launching another public consultation this September. This will build upon consultation that has already taken place for the M4 Corridor Enhancement Measures (CEM), with a finalised draft plan and a new Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) report. It has been reported that the Assembly is confident they will be granted funding for the expensive scheme with William Graham, Tory AM for South East Wales, asking that the Treasury and Finance Ministers agree on proposals from the Silk Commission. If the plans go ahead there will be a new motorway built south of Newport, which will cause huge destruction across the nationally important habitat of the Gwent Levels.
There are several press reports that Chancellor George Osborne will announce plans to support a new toll motorway in June's comprehensive spending review. Funding for a relief motorway could be guaranteed by the Treasury to enable the Welsh Government to build the road and then to repay the loan at least in part by raising tolls.
In response to the reports, the Welsh Government have stated that they are opposed to any toll scheme. However, it is clear that there is pressure for road building from the UK Government, and that there are talks taking place. This is a major concern for Gwent Wildlife Trust and other CALM members, but because of our previous action, we are confident that further consultation must take place before any decision is made. Therefore, when a new consultation is published, Gwent Wildlife Trust will be ready to fight for sustainable transport options, and the protection of the amazing Gwent Levels..
Gwent Wildlife Trust is a part of the Campaign Against the Levels Motorway (CALM) alliance. This is a group of organisations and individuals opposed to road building on the Gwent levels. CALM members include Gwent Wildlife Trust, RSPB Cymru, Friends of the Earth Cymru, Gwent Ornithological Society, Community Councils, and concerned individuals.