The Black Route is Finished

The M4 Black Route is finished. And here are the reasons why.

No-one left to speak for it

The departure of former Transport Minister Edwina Hart has left the Black Route as an idea with no advocate. 

Ok, that's not strictly true. After all, we shouldn't forget George Osborne, and David Cameron (whose colourful quote demonstrates how little he knows about the Welsh economy in general and transport in Wales in particular). And to some degree, Carwyn Jones and Jane Hutt have spoken up in favour.

But that's about it. The fact that not one of the manifestos spoke in favour of the Black Route for this election tells you how unpopular it is. 

And it's unpopular for a very good reason. This map tells you all you need to know about the alleged problems caused by the M4 around Newport (see the 'do minimum' map). 

A motorway that will deal just fine with predicted massive growth in vehicle numbers right up to 2037, almost all of the time. Busy at rush hour? Sure. But if you think that we'll still be commuting to work in the same old, tired ways in 21 years' time then we might as well scrap the south Wales Metro, the Active Travel Act, and the Well-Being of Future Generations Act while we're at it. And this is all assuming that the Welsh Government's projections of growth in vehicle movements comes to pass. Who knows what impact will be had by improved public transport, tele- and home-working, and a desire to not be cooped up in a small metal box for one's journey to work. 

Massive opposition

There is huge opposition to the Black Route. It ranges across the entire political spectrum, with well-publicised internal schisms in both the Labour (here and here) and Conservative parties, alongside total opposition from Plaid Cymru, the Lib Dems and UKIP. 

It encompasses the membership of the Federation of Small Businesses, which, sensibly, believes that multi-billion pound expenditure on transport should be spread throughout Wales, helping communities in every corner of our country, not just those wanting to shave a maximum of 9 minutes off their commute. ABP is vigorously opposed because of the impact on Newport docks. These docks employ 3,000 people in real jobs, remember, not those magicked up by forecasts in the Welsh Government department of fantasy economics. And Roadchef today announced it is hiring a QC to challenge the plans. 

Unsurprisingly the opposition incorporates the whole gamut of environmental groups who, like ourselves, want to see a Wales committed to sustainability in its true definition: ploughing a 6-lane motorway through five Sites of Special Scientific Interest and acres of nature-rich green space hardly seems compatible with a country claiming to be focusing on the well-being of future generations. 

Meanwhile the pro-destruction lobby limps along, with cheerleaders the CBI managing to scrimp up a paltry 60 members to sign up to their desperate plea to waste billions of pounds of taxpayers' money on a scheme based on 1960s thinking. 

Political impossibility

In order to pass the massive finance necessary for this project, Labour will need to seek allies in other parties. However as we've already seen, the only party that might realistically support such a motion would be the Conservatives. And as I've also already noted, several Labour AMs have already publicly voiced their opposition, I believe several (including Cabinet members) to be privately opposed and I would expect some of the new intake to be opposed. The question is: could those opposed be whipped to vote in favour or abstain in numbers sufficient enough to win a vote when added to any Conservative members willing to commit to expenditure? 

I don't think the electoral maths works out for two reasons. 

The first is arithmetic: those who've publicly opposed this expenditure are unlikely to abstain if that would result in the M4 black route going ahead. And I don't believe there are enough Conservative members in favour to push the number above 30. 

But the second is more prosaic. Would Labour AMs be seen to be working 'with the Tories' when, for election after election, this has been the pre-poll accusation levied at Plaid Cymru and the Lib Dems?


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