M4 Newport relief road scrapped: environment v economics

24 June 2019 by

Listen to Alaisdair Henderson on Episode 85 of Law Pod UK

Plans to build a fourteen mile, six lane motorway through the Gwent Levels south of Newport to relieve congestion on the M4 have been scrapped by the Welsh government. The announcement by first minister Mark Drakeford was welcomed by environmentalists, local residents and small businesses who opposed the scheme at last year’s public inquiry. Alasdair Henderson, Dominic Ruck Keene and Hannah Noyce from 1 Crown Office Row with other barristers from Guildhall Chambers (Brendon Moorhouse) and Garden Court (Irena Sabic and Grace Brown) represented Gwent Wildlife Trust and an umbrella of other environmental objectors in the proceedings which lasted from February 2017 to September 2018. All these barristers acted for free. Environmental NGOs such as the Environmental Law Foundation, should be particularly pleased by Drakeford’s acknowledgement the campaigners’ efforts:

I think we need to pay tribute to the campaigners, both locally and nationally, who urged the Government to safeguard one of Wales’s greatest treasures, the Gwent levels.

Evidence from the witnesses Alasdair and his team called may not have convinced the inspector, but had a persuasive effect on the First Minister. You can listen to Alasdair discussing the inquiry and the outcome with Rosalind English on the latest episode of Law Pod UK. As you will hear, Alasdair is much encouraged by the implications of the Welsh government’s latest move for other big infrastructure schemes where the environment is pitted against the economy.

it’s probably one of the biggest environmental success stories in terms of challenging a major infrastructure project on environmental grounds.

The announcement came as a welcome surprise, given the Inspector’s firm conclusion that the benefit of the project to the Welsh economy was not only evident but indeed “unchallengeable”:

there is an overwhelming need for the scheme on traffic grounds and, in being very effective in accommodating M4 corridor traffic well into the future, on the existing motorway and new one, would be sustainable on traffic grounds.

Whilst he acknowledged the significant impact of the road on the Gwent levels sites of special scientific interest and the impact of the road on biodiversity and ecosystem resilience, his conclusion was that the road should go ahead.

The problem of congestion on the M4 around Newport has been discussed for decades, and various solutions have been shelved.

There is plenty to get stuck into over the 500+ pages of the report, and obviously a certain amount of overlap between the objections and the Welsh Government’s replies. But it is so well written (the Inspector, Bill Wadrup has since sadly died) that it reads as a primer on many points of controversy in modern life, such as the future of the motor car, climate change, pollution, flooding, biodiversity loss, local businesses and the role – if there needs to be one – of a minister for future generations.

Of all these topics, the future of traffic is one of the most important. It is a sombre thought that, whilst there has been a reduction in car use due to the internet in recent years for shopping and commuting, motorway growth has continued to rise in accordance with the growing population. You can’t transport livestock over broadband any more than you can transfer building materials from one end of the country to the other. Furthermore, there is the problem of induced traffic with the building of ever more roads. When a new road opens the temptation to use it is overwhelming and congestion inevitably follows. Covering ever greater stretches of the countryside with tarmac and concrete arguably creates more problems than it resolves.

Alaisdair called traffic expert Professor Whitelegg who pointed out that each time you build a new bypass or extension, you have initial capacity. But then you encourage more people to use their cars, even for short journeys. So once you’ve just done that, everyone does that and you’re back where you’re started.

The Welsh Government’s decision to put a stop is a unique opportunity to escape this cycle

There’s also degradation of the land. Once you build a motorway, the hypermarkets follow. One of the strongest objections to the M4 extension was the severing of the landscape that would then be open to development pressure. Whilst the proposers of the project countered this argument by pointing to the normal planning pressure any such development would have to go through, the opening up of countryside to further exploitation is an inevitable consequence of road expansion.

All parties agreed that the M4 going through Newport is very congested; there is no shortage of of data for that. But, as Alasdair points out in my interview with him, the real fundamental disagreement was what about how to address this problem. The approach that the Gwent Wildlife Trust and the umbrella group he and others were representing (including Cycling UK and Friends of the Earth) was not only to make the point about environmental damage of the scheme but to challenge the assumptions of the scheme. One of Alaisdair’s witnesses for the Trust was Calvin Jones, Professor of Economics at Cardiff Business School. He challenged the evidence that the congestion had adversely affected South Wales. Autonomous vehicles in the near future was a strong part of his argument against the scheme.

The Gwent Wildlife Trust (also represented by Hannah Noyce) argued that any mitigation measures proposed by the relief road project to its impact on biodiversity would be unlikely to succeed under EU environmental law. The sort of mitigation measures proposed were otter passageways, eel passes, owl boxes, specific planting to guide bats to culverts and other crossings over the proposed road, minimisation of light spill and so on.

Dominic Ruck Keene, for Cycling UK, contended that cultural significance of the car is changing and the traffic forecasts and that the modelling used to justify the scheme took no account of this.

The current modelling systems for “ecosystem services” are similarly inadequate. This is a term designed to capture the benefits imparted by the natural environment, such as tranquility, pollination and carbon reduction. But so far only lip service has been paid to ecosystem services in debates involving measures that stack up in real economic terms.

That is why the decision to overturn the Inspector’s conclusion and think beyond the M4 extension is so inspiring. As Alaisdair Henderson says, even where money prevails,

some things are of unquantifiable value, the wetlands and biodiversity of the Gwent Levels being some of them. Money isn’t everything, and it’s really exciting to see high level government ministers making that choice.

Law Pod UK is available on SpotifyiTunes,AudioboomPodbean or wherever you listen to our podcasts. Please remember to rate and review us if you like what you hear.  

1 comment;

  1. Andrew says:

    If the business where you earn your living depends on good roads to remain competitive you may be of another view.

Comments are closed.

Welcome to the UKHRB

This blog is run by 1 Crown Office Row barristers' chambers. Subscribe for free updates here. The blog's editorial team is:
Commissioning Editor: Jonathan Metzer
Editorial Team: Rosalind English
Angus McCullough QC David Hart QC
Martin Downs
Jim Duffy

Free email updates

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog for free and receive weekly notifications of new posts by email.




Aarhus Abortion Abu Qatada Abuse Access to justice adoption AI air pollution air travel ALBA Allergy Al Qaeda Amnesty International animal rights Animals Anne Sacoolas anonymity Article 1 Protocol 1 Article 2 article 3 Article 4 article 5 Article 6 Article 8 Article 9 article 10 Article 11 article 13 Article 14 article 263 TFEU Artificial Intelligence Asbestos Assange assisted suicide asylum asylum seekers Australia autism badgers benefits Bill of Rights biotechnology blogging Bloody Sunday brexit Bribery British Waterways Board care homes Catholic Church Catholicism Chagos Islanders Charter of Fundamental Rights child protection Children children's rights China christianity citizenship civil liberties campaigners civil partnerships climate change clinical negligence closed material procedure Coercion Commission on a Bill of Rights common law communications competition confidentiality consent conservation constitution contact order contact tracing contempt of court Control orders Copyright coronavirus coronavirus act 2020 costs costs budgets Court of Protection covid crime criminal law Cybersecurity Damages data protection death penalty defamation DEFRA deportation deprivation of liberty derogations Detention Dignitas diplomacy diplomatic relations disability disclosure Discrimination disease divorce DNA domestic violence duty of care ECHR ECtHR Education election Employment Environment Equality Act Equality Act 2010 Ethiopia EU EU Charter of Fundamental Rights EU costs EU law European Convention on Human Rights European Court of Human Rights European Court of Justice evidence extradition extraordinary rendition Facebook Facial Recognition Family Fatal Accidents Fertility FGM Finance foreign criminals foreign office foreign policy France freedom of assembly Freedom of Expression freedom of information freedom of speech Gay marriage gay rights Gaza Gender genetics Germany Google Grenfell Gun Control hague convention Harry Dunn Health HIV home office Housing HRLA human rights Human Rights Act human rights news Human Rights Watch Huntington's Disease immigration India Indonesia injunction Inquests insurance international law internet inuit Iran Iraq Ireland islam Israel Italy IVF ivory ban Japan joint enterprise judaism judicial review Judicial Review reform Julian Assange jury trial JUSTICE Justice and Security Bill Law Pod UK legal aid legal aid cuts Leveson Inquiry lgbtq liability Libel Liberty Libya lisbon treaty Lithuania local authorities marriage Media and Censorship mental capacity Mental Capacity Act Mental Health military Ministry of Justice modern slavery morocco murder music Muslim nationality national security naturism neuroscience NHS Northern Ireland nuclear challenges nuisance Obituary ouster clauses parental rights parliamentary expenses scandal patents Pensions Personal Injury physician assisted death Piracy Plagiarism planning planning system Poland Police Politics Pope press prison Prisoners prisoner votes Prisons privacy procurement Professional Discipline Property proportionality prosecutions prostituton Protection of Freedoms Bill Protest Public/Private public access public authorities public inquiries quarantine Radicalisation refugee rehabilitation Reith Lectures Religion RightsInfo right to die right to family life Right to Privacy right to swim riots Roma Romania round-up Round Up Royals Russia saudi arabia Scotland secrecy secret justice Secret trials sexual offence shamima begum Sikhism Smoking social media social workers South Africa Spain special advocates Sports Standing starvation statelessness stem cells stop and search Strasbourg super injunctions Supreme Court Supreme Court of Canada surrogacy surveillance sweatshops Syria Tax technology Terrorism The Round Up tort Torture travel treason treaty accession trial by jury TTIP Turkey Twitter UK Ukraine universal credit universal jurisdiction unlawful detention USA US Supreme Court vicarious liability Wales War Crimes Wars Weekly Round-up Welfare Western Sahara Whistleblowing Wikileaks wildlife wind farms WomenInLaw Worboys wrongful birth YearInReview Zimbabwe


This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.

Our privacy policy can be found on our ‘subscribe’ page or by clicking here.

%d bloggers like this: