UK Government probably won’t build M4 bypass, Conservative member says

M4 traffic at Port Talbot. Picture by Ben Salter (CC BY 2.0).

The UK Government probably won’t build the M4 bypass around Newport despite threatening to overrule the Welsh Government in order to do so, a Conservative Senedd Member has said.

Encroaching on Wales’ autonomy would likely weaken the union in the long run and send alarm bells ringing in Scotland, David Melding said.

“Even if the UKG were to build the relief road at no cost – opportunity or actual – to the Welsh Government (a highly unlikely eventuality) it would still undermine political accountability and jeopardise the current devolution settlement,” he said.

“The Union would be weakened and an alarm signal sent to Scotland, although perversely not one entirely unwelcome to the SNP.

“I doubt the M4 relief road will ever be built by the UKG. Once the implications of speeding off in this direction are realised the suggestion will be quickly parked. Then it will be a matter for the Welsh electorate, and the Welsh Government they elect in 2021, to decide.”

 

‘Danger’

Last week Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that he would be willing to “take forward” transport infrastructure plans in Wales even if they are rejected by the Welsh Government.

He referred specifically to the M4 bypass plan, which the Welsh Government rejected citing the £1.6bn cost and impact on the environmentally important Gwent Levels.

The Internal Market Bill which recently passed the House of Commons, described by First Minister Mark Drakeford as an “enormous power grab,” would give the UK Government the power to overrule the Welsh Government on financing transport projects.

But David Melding said that the UK Government would be wise not to interfere with devolved powers.

“Encroachment is a danger in all federal and devolved forms of government,” he said.

“It is seen when one government cuts in on another and can be a two-way street, a motorway even! The Scottish Government seeking to prevent nuclear submarines using Faslane or the UK Government wanting to build an M4 relief road are classic examples of encroachment.

“Encroachment should not be confused with co-operation or shared governance on matters of mutual interest. Rather it is the attempt to alter without consent the territorial distribution of power.

“The UKG’s reasoning for such an irregular proposition is that arterial transport networks are essential for the efficient operation of an internal market. But if transport today why not housing tomorrow on such criteria? Is not the efficient movement of labour also essential to the UK’s internal market?

“Workers need homes! And should not public sector procurement, regional assistance, business and agricultural support be added to the list?

“Paradoxically the Brexit ideology that seems to be driving us down this motorway was once turned on Brussels with accusations that overreach was built into the Single Market. Yet the EU Commission operates via member governments and applies a rules-based approach with independent legal arbitration.

“This shared governance model is underpinned by the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. The UKG seems disinclined to emulate such restraint. So for Wales and Scotland “take back control” may mean “let London take the wheel”.

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