M4 relief road

By now everyone’s aware of the decision announced last week by the ‘Welsh Government’ not to proceed with the planned M4 ‘relief road’ through the Gwent Levels and Newport docks.

This decision that took most of us by surprise needs to be examined and certain ramifications and possibilities considered. For last week’s decision might have significance beyond a single road project.


When Carwyn Jones was First Minister it was understood that the relief road would go ahead. So for a start, the decision announced last week means that things have changed under his successor, Mark Drakeford.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of last week’s decision is that Mark Drakeford, and the ‘Welsh Government’, have gone against the wishes of their superiors in London. It’s impossible to over-stress that what happened last week was a form of insubordination.

For make no  mistake, London wanted this road. The Planning Inspectorate for Englandandwales backed the plan, with inspector Bill Wardrup waxing lyrical about the relief road while being almost insultingly dismissive of alternatives.

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Our Secretary of State, Alun Cairns, that most London-loyal of individuals – and, we now learn, a Boris Johnson supporter – was “hugely disappointed” by the decision. It may have come as a bit of a shock to him, for Cairns knew long ago what the inspector’s recommendation was, and he probably expected the new management team in Cardiff docks to follow Compliant Carwyn’s lead and do as the inspector (and London) recommended.

click to enlarge

So maybe any consideration of this shock to the system political boils down to two questions:

  1. Why has Drakeford refused to do London’s bidding in this instance?
  2. Is this a one-off act of rebellion or does it herald a fundamental change of course for ‘Welsh’ Labour?


One possible explanation might lie in the fact that despite all the criticism of London-centricity, and the disproportionate amount of infrastructure spending in London and the south east of England, for two decades Wales has followed exactly the same course.

Because a curious feature of devolution is that those areas that voted against devolution in 1997 have been the areas to benefit most since 1999. Maybe this is related to the phenomenon that has seen successive Labour administrations in Cardiff Bay neglect those areas that vote Labour.

So, to be generous, this decision not to proceed with the M4 relief road might mark the beginning of attempts to ‘rebalance’ the Welsh economy.

Even if I’m being too generous there, on a purely financial level, it would have been difficult to justify expenditure of £1.5 bn (at the very least) in a country of just over 3 million people unless the benefits are widely enjoyed. That would obviously not have been the case with the M4 relief road, and further, expenditure on that project would mean fewer infrastructure projects elsewhere in the country.

It’s even being suggested that areas of England – notably Bristol – would have benefited more from an M4 relief road than areas of Wales just twenty or thirty miles away, such as the Heads of the Valleys.

This is how Alun Davies, AM for Blaenau Gwent, put it in a couple of tweets.

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Weighing up cost and benefit, the M4 relief road would have meant the ‘Welsh Government’ borrowing a great deal of money for a project that at best would only benefit one corner of the country, and at worst, might have been of more benefit to adjacent areas of England.

On those grounds alone, no body claiming to be the ‘Welsh Government’, serving the whole of Wales, could have given the go-ahead for the M4 relief road.

But that consideration has never before stopped an administration in Cardiff Bay from pouring investment into the city at the expense of the rest of the country. So there may be other explanations.


Having mentioned the Planning Inspectorate this is a good time to remind you of the malign influence this agency has exerted over Wales.

In this example from March 2014 I wrote about the plan to expand Bodelwyddan and how it linked with the Local Development Plan (LDP) for Denbighshire. In this post we see how the Planning Inspectorate was forcing a Welsh local authority to allow housing greatly in excess of any local need.

And even after census findings made it clear that the county would need less new housing than had previously been anticipated, the Planning Inspector insisted on keeping to the now discredited figures:

The planning inspector’s response to Denbighshire arguing it needed less new housing than previously projected. Click to enlarge.

“Objects and aspirations” can only mean catering for an influx of new residents from outside of the county, and almost certainly from outside of Wales. Which means that in many cases the LDPs that have been forced on our local authorities by the Planning Inspectorate are ‘local’ only in the sense that they affect areas of Wales.

In Denbighshire, the northern part of the county lies within the A55 corridor, which is being developed as a linear commuter belt for north west England. The ‘Welsh Government’ will never admit this – in fact, it might not even be consulted – but others know, and are planning for it.

This map was produced by Lichfields (planning and development consultancy), it makes clear that there are three strategic planning areas in Wales, Two we know about, the third is never mentioned.

This is part of a wider and ongoing plan to integrate northern Wales into north west England. This 2019 report from Transport for the North makes the medium- to long-term planning clear, and it goes beyond a narrow corridor.

What’s being done here could be done without devolution – so what’s the point of having a ‘Welsh Government’ if it doesn’t live up to the name? Is devolution just a chimera, a smokescreen?

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Cross-border co-operation is one thing, and desirable, it happens all over the world; but it must be done on a basis of mutual respect with both sides benefiting. The map you see above is Englandandwales in operation. Anyone arguing otherwise would probably describe Tryweryn as a mutually-beneficial project.

Without labouring the point I hope you get the gist – the Planning Inspectorate has done a lot of damage to Wales over the years. Which explains why the agency’s relationship with the ‘Welsh Government’ has always been a source of confusion for Welsh politicians and others.

Taken from a ‘Welsh Government’ publication. Click to enlarge.

The truth is that the Planning Inspectorate for Englandandwales has a desk in Cardiff but takes its orders from London, with the ‘Welsh Government’ allowed to pretend it has some control.

The truth is driven home when we see an inspector adjudicating on a Welsh case one week and being in Yorkshire or Devon the following week. (Though of course, never in Scotland.)

It was no surprise then that the Planning Inspectorate wanted the M4 black route. Because that’s what London wanted.

Though if Mark Drakeford can see the problem with the Planning Inspectorate for Englandandwales then he must also be aware that this is only the tip of an iceberg. That ‘iceberg’ being the problem of ‘Welsh’ civil servants relaying orders from London. 


The fact that the ‘Welsh Government’ went against the recommendation of the Planning Inspectorate, its London masters, and a number of powerful lobby groups (perhaps even . . . whisper it – Deryn!), means that Mark Drakeford has really stuck his scruffy neck out.

Which leads me to suspect, or hope, that this decision might be about more than the explanations we’ve been given on cost and environment damage. There might be things bubbling below the surface that could prove to be more important in the medium term than the M4 decision itself.

First off, I am convinced that the M4 decision links with this announcement from a month ago that Wales will soon have its own planning inspectorate. Let’s look at what the article in The Planner says.

“Currently, the Planning Inspectorate for England and Wales is responsible for making decisions and recommendations on planning-related land issues and appeals. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and the Welsh Government fund it.

Based in Cardiff, the inspectorate’s Wales Division manages casework on planning and related applications and appeals, including developments of national significance. It examines local development plans, which set out land use planning policies and form the basis of local planning decisions, using a team of dedicated Welsh inspectors and administrators.

The new planning inspectorate for Wales is expected to be fully operational by the end of the current assembly term, which is May 2021.”

This move was explained by the ‘Welsh Government’ thus: “planning law and policy has diverged and continues to diverge at an accelerating rate from England”. Which makes a certain sense, but if that’s the real reason then policing, broadcasting and many other powers would also be fully devolved.

Though a cynic might suggest that Drakeford is launching the new agency because he’s burned his bridges with the Planning Inspectorate after giving them two fingers over such a high-profile project as the M4 relief road.

Whatever the reason, I’m hoping Drakeford and his cabinet want a separate Welsh planning inspectorate to do things differently in future and for the right reasons. Otherwise, why set up a new and separate agency?


Does the dropping of the M4 relief road coupled with the announcement of the new planning inspectorate herald a change of direction for the ‘Welsh Government’?

The cynic in me thinks, ‘Nah, this leopard ain’t gonna change its spots, Jac. After twenty years of screwing up on devolution Labour’s only pretending to do things differently now because it’s slipping in the polls. Any change will be purely cosmetic.’

But then, the optimistic side to my nature (long dormant) asserts itself and says, ‘Wait! Maybe from now on they will put the interests of Wales and Welsh people first. Perhaps they’ll realise that there are communities within twenty miles of Corruption Bay approaching third world standards of deprivation. And that our rural areas need more than zip wires and granny farms. 

‘Perhaps it’ll mean no more insane legislation to encourage hippies, ‘rewilders’ and other enviroshysters; no more grants showered on multinationals’ branch factories and con men with ludicrous ‘projects’; no more red carpet treatment for exploitive ‘celebs’ such as Bore Grylls; no more funding and other encouragement for the third sector to import England’s problems so as to maintain thousands of unnecessary jobs with our money.

‘Maybe, at long last, Wales will be treated as a country, in which the interests of those who belong here are considered more important than kudos gained from playing to galleries that only seek to exploit and marginalise us. Perhaps our kids will be given a decent education to prepare them for better jobs than scurrying around an Amazon warehouse or desperately waiting for Easter in the hope of some low-wage tourism job.’

Over to you, Mark Drakeford.

♦ end ♦


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Should have put Lesley Griffiths in charge. She has a history of ignoring far wiser people.


Back to the subject of this blog post. There is no need for the M4 relief road. Even the lettuce lizard can see that. There’s already a proposal to solve the capacity issue at peak Cardiff commuter time around Newport. It’s a proposal to run a London/Cardiff express service stopping at Severn Tunnel Junction en route to Cardiff but not stopping at Swindon, Didcott and Reading at the other end of the line.

Plenty of room at Severn Tunnel Junction for massive commuter car park and new station.

This has a number of advantages…

(1) It’s a Wales only to London operation, all those English commuters who clog up the capacity on the GWR service will not be allowed. It’s a true Welsh service.
(2) It can run faster and more efficient electric only 140mph trains without the disadvantage of lugging a big diesel motor around, unlike GWR. Line speed is maintained throughout England.
(3) Extra trains and seating capacity would be provided at peak commuter peak from STJ, a park and ride station next to the M4/M48. It shifts capacity to the Welsh end of the GWML.
(4) No need for Cardiff commuters to drive through the Brynglas tunnels at all if there’s a faster, cheaper alternative.


It’s only been reported by the BBC in Wales as of today, however, the submission for track access rights was made back in April. Further success is dependent on the Westminster Government not blocking the proposal and the Welsh Government progressing the extension of integrated electronic ticketing with Cardiff Bus. Sadly the transfer point at Cardiff Central has already been allocated to the BBC, a building best removed, and the bus terminus re-instated.

Why are Welsh politicians poncing about holding vegan vol-et-vents at Hay-on-Wye instead of sitting down with Mr Yeowart in the Senedd?


Brychan In answer to that question posed in your last paragraph – it’s because they are more comfortable debating the merits of vegan canapes than the complexities of modern transportation infrastructure for which a degree in P.P.E or Modern Dance leaves then ill equipped to get beyond the introduction of any detailed report. Sadly most of the “experts” they employ to advise and guide them are similarly lacking in relevant education and/or experience. That’s what you get when people choose to make careers in politics or government with little or no real world experience or training.


So what kind of transport infrastructure is now being considered? It’s a £1.5bn windfall that the Welsh Government has? Here’s one suggestion…

Drone showing a fix on the banks of the Mississippi near Davenport, Iowa.

The science.

I’ve just been told the bus route that runs between Llandudno Junction and Blaenau Ffestiniog, is soon to be replaced with a replacement train service. I wonder if they used a concreate trough, graded ballast and variable sleeper mass?

This technology can be used elsewhere in Wales.
Drone showing the track bed of the Carmarthen to Aberystwyth line.


Here we go again ! University with overambitious plans spends like stink then finds it has to cut back – why am I not at all surprised ? And certainly not amused to see the cretin Davidson still in post spouting bullshit flat out.


Alan Tait


What is happening in our region, Ammanford is not far from Kidwelly

Big Gee

These are the type of things that REALLY pisses me off!

TOTAL inexcusable incompetence.


Fascinating irony today, reading that tweet about a bright young lady winning a place on a Master’s programme to research infectious diseases but can’t get funding from a Welsh Government dept, the very same Government that bends over backwards to fund all sorts of 3rd sector spivs whose main line of business is importing seriously unwell folk into Wales from other parts of U.K. Now could anybody make up a sorry tale like that ?


The characteristics of a masters programme in infectious diseases which Rhiannon has qualified to study is as follows…

(a) It attracts global investment and is not dependent on carbon infrastructure,
(b) It is ‘Brexit proof’ as there is no trade embargos on medical stuff,
(c) It’s where the money and economic growth is,
(d) It’s in an industry which is knowledge based so investment cannot up-sticks,
(e) It has a real social benefit,
(f) It’s a transferable skill to others lower down the academic pipeline.

Student Finance Wales (policy of Labours Welsh Government) are quite happy to fund postgraduates in Oxford doing Politics or English History and spend millions on non-subjects like yurt building at CAT, but refuses to fund something that actually benefits Wales and Welsh people.

A current leader in the field is the Institute of Global Health and Infections Diseases based in Liverpool. Has the Welsh Government got a problem with poaching any specific spin-off investment into Wales, particularly North Wales? Why can’t the next generation of anti-biotic be invented in Wrexham or Bangor with lorry loads of pharma cash being invested?

Recommended by a Friend

McEvoy is charged by the establishment of Plaid Cymru with fighting and winning an Election for Plaid Cymru on Cardiff City Council. Plaid Cymru is beyond parody. Price needs to have a clear out of these Labour stooges and saboteurs and get on with winning independence.


Price himself may be part of the problem, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt for a minute – if he chucks out the stooge and saboteur elements he won’t have much left in membership ! It’s supporter numbers that really matter and the recent alienation of large segments of that supporter base leaves Plaid vulnerable.

It’s a population ripe for Ein Gwlad to nurture and harvest otherwise they’ll go lie fallow or worse still end up along with ex Labour dissenters joining the Brexit party as a gesture of protest. People are mighty pissed off and having wet gibbering idiots telling them how naughty they are just won’t fit the bill. Farage and his mob may be a short term reflex reaction but longer term these people, our people, need politicians to show real appetite for lasting worthwhile changes. Somehow dear Adam hasn’t fronted up to date.


I love the rush of guarded optimism on here regarding recent shifts in behaviours at Y Cynulliad. The Cynic in me suspects that Drakeford and others in his crew will run out of drive and initiative sooner rather than later. Why ? because the EU ishoo is not ours to sort, just to bawl and shout about, and some of the other stuff that really needs tackling will most likely bring on a rash of reluctance.

The real issues include :

those factors that continue to blight our economic performance – such as utter dependence on and preference for multinational corporates while neglecting the fostering of indigenous enterprise. This needs to be completely reshaped.
Creating a coherent infrastructure template which meets the needs of Wales as an entity rather than one spoilt overindulged corner. M4 will need bolstering but in several places along its length, while rail cries out for real investment East-West and North-South.
Those factors that undermine efforts to deliver a half decent health service for our communities, including the ultra-taboo question of the influx of unhealthy older retireds from other side of Clawdd Offa
The inability to focus on a set of relevant goals and objectives for our education system. Sort out some relevant basic aptitudes before catering for all sorts of subjects which may enhance the “learning experience” but do sweet fuck all to enable young people to enter the world of work and income with anything remotely relevant in their academic c.v.
Creating and maintaining a matrix of social services that protects our weaker members in our communities. Cut out the “trade” in importing social problems from England and eliminate the fostering of “never ending problems” by 3rd sector bodies whose primary objective is self preservation and promotion. And this is an area where Drakeford’s crew may prove most reluctant in mangling the nice little earners of so many of their friends.
Create a national police force under a single command structure cutting out duplication and obsession with territory. A robust attitude to crime is a key pillar in any healthy society although it might not be welcomed among those who like to give crims the benefit of the doubt.

This is NOT an exhaustive list, there’s plenty more to address in due course. Until we see the Cynulliad crew and the sitting Government in particular start moving on these I won’t be giving any credit for the slight shift of this last week. Call me a miserable bastard if you wish but track record to date does not support a shift in my stance.

Jonathan Edwards

Jac you are picking up a feeling, seeing straws in the wind. And you are quite right. I think 4th June 2019 ranks as a day the worm turned. On that day reality, hard facts pointed to Welsh solutions to Welsh problems. Facts tend to outweigh the soft left stuff, which will be good for Wales. I am no fan of the Assembly because I want a real Parliament. But 4th June had no fewer than 3 encouraging signs
M4 Black Route – exactly as you say, the practical facts led to “No”.
Miles statement and the Assembly agreeing about Europe. I know you’re not a fan of the EU, but bear with me. It is possible to believe that the EU is good for Wales, and that this must come ahead of whatever the London Labour leadership clique is doing. What we saw was a united Wales coming out as Remain. Perfectly reasonable in itself. But also a firm quiet assertion of the needs of Wales, for EU funding etc. Surely an autonomous Wales should be allowed this point of view?
NHS Betsi Cadwaladr: loved watching Helen Mary Jones being lovey-dovey with Angela Burns (Tory). Proves Plaid are full of hot-air, since they must and can work with Tories if the need arises. Once again, a fact-based debate. Some AMs were moaning about the fact that it is taking 4 years to sort out Betsi. True, sounds bad. But experience in England shows that 4 years or more is what it takes to sort out an NHS body. I felt I was watching a Welsh Parliament sorting out the Welsh NHS with patience and increasing skill. Might not be perfect but again I could feel Wales growing up politically.
OK June 4th was also the date of the Ford closure. Heavy, serious stuff reminding me of the 70s and 80s when Wales loses coal and steel (Shotton etc).
Reality is dawning, but Wales has yet to find answers for the heavy lifting. Got to get our own Constitution, with Indy or Dominion Status. Big-time changes still needed.


Hi jac to get into ypur site it,s marked as suspisios link go back thought you might like to know .regards .howell.

Big Gee

From SCCambria‘s technical support team that includes me and my dog. The dog says:

That sounds as if it could be a case of an over zealous security filter setting in your browser howellwilliamsgoogle. Some browsers give you the choice of ‘High’, ‘Medium’ or ‘Low’ browser security setting. Many people automatically choose the ‘High’ setting, because they want maximum security – that can sometimes be a big nuisance.

The ‘High’ setting – although it intimates that you are safer, on the downside, it may also sometimes be over cautious and gives you false positive warnings for what are actually safe and benign sites. Unfortunately there is no one size that fits all in these things.

Often, especially with old sites that use the http: protocol, rather than the https: (server setting where everything is encrypted) will kick up all sorts of warnings in browsers when links to them are clicked, although in reality they are perfectly safe.

Personally, I would never use the ‘High’ setting, because it’s more hassle than it’s worth, and is often very inaccurate in it’s reporting of the actual safety of sites you may be trying to access. I am also quite cynical of how much security it actually provides. It just gives you unnecessary warnings where none are often needed.

So check your browser’s security settings and adjust them as necessary. Assuming that is the source of your problem.

Gwilym ab Ioan

Don’t hold your breath, but at the same time hope for the best.

The key thing to remember is that Labour (whether you give it a descriptor like ‘Welsh’ or not) is a London based unionist party. A foreign party operating on our soil. No normal country would tolerate such a situation – but we’re NOT normal are we? We are an annexed, colony of England, who has the ludicrous right to operate in our country, using her own unionist parties.

With the exception of one nationalist party who has seats in our parliament, the rest are classic London based political parties ruling a vassal country.

As for the one nationalist party currently in our Senedd, well just imagine how much use an ashtray is on a motorbike. Again in a ‘normal’ country, would you have one party representing a whole country in a democratic system?

What allows this to happen is the mindset inculcated into our nation that we are not Wales, but that mythical land called ‘Englandandwales’ ruled by England.

There is a massive re-educating programme required to erase the false mentality chiselled into our psyche through the perpetual brainwashing of the British Empire sourced establishment. Whichever ‘foreign’ unionist party you wish to support, the reality is that any party that gains power in Englandandwales it’s just a different mask on the same face. That face belongs to the English establishment.

That’s why we need a clean slate through the gaining of true independence. The only home grown party that will seriously fight for that is Ein Gwlad. The other nationalist party has, sadly, been assimilated into the establishment quite some time ago.

That’s why we say, question everything, believe nothing until you’re sure that the sheep you cherish and bring into your fold is not a wolf in a dead sheep’s clothing. Which could very well apply to Drakeford’s announcement. Which Ein Gwlad supports – at face value.

I hope I’m wrong, because there are some – even within the Labour party in Wales – who are unfortunately misguided patriots. Others are discontented patriots in the ranks of that other quasi nationalist party in Wales.


This latest post hits the nail squarely on the head, not least because it asks the obvious question, namely, “Is this a new dawn of planning exclusively for Wales’s present and future needs, or is it smoke and mirrors and an underhand maintenance of the status quo?” Damned if I know.

The establishment of a Welsh planning inspectorate and the binning of the ‘relief’ road are potentially the most significant developments in Welsh politics for years. I ask myself:-
1/ Can the Welsh inspectorate’s powers be used to protect Welsh-speaking communities from
excessive house-building for non-locals?
2/ Can those powers be used to reverse previous planning decisions by the EnglandandWales
body? (Unlikely).
3/ How will the Westminster Government react to the new body?
4/ Who wins if the new inspectorate’s individual decisions conflict with EnglandandWales
planning policy and Cairns’s ‘powerhouse’ projects?

At the moment we’re being told very little, just vague stuff about a divergence in planning law, but also, significantly, about a divergence in planning POLICY and (which gives me hope) “the unique needs of communities and businesses in Wales”. The implications for reversing the current demographic shift and allowing younger people to STAY in Wales and get reasonable jobs and affordable housing are, as Jac implies, enormous.

The proof will be in the pudding. If it’s not smoke and mirrors, then it’s a complete U-turn from previous ‘Welsh’ Labour policy — when Plaid Cymru advocated a Welsh Planning Inspectorate in 2013, the ‘Welsh’ Labour management team rejected the proposal. Until we see the pudding, we can only be cautiously optimistic at the most.


If the kind of anti-Welsh planning decisions that your link indicates can in future be scrubbed from the equation, then you are indeed justified in being slightly optimistic, Jac. And optimism is a pretty rare commodity in Wales these days.

We know Cairns is pissed off about the M4 decision. I wonder if there’ll be any comeback from Westminster for the Drakeford Boys. More probably, there’ll be a rash of housebuilding in Flintshire, far in excess of local need, in order to beat the clock.


I agree, and I hope it’s going to turn things around in terms of population transfer. And the Senedd will have many local authorities onside, as well as the inevitable nimbies. So Wales might after all win this one.

But I bet the EnglandandWales planning Inspectorate will push through as much population transfer as they can until the Welsh Inspectorate comes into being.

It’s going to be a very interesting change.


As you say Jac, interesting decision by Mark Drakeford regarding M4 relief road. A Welsh Planning Inspectorate would also be an important step in the right direction. If this is the dawn of a new era in Welsh politics its probably because they have all been following your blog posts over recent years and have, at long last, seen the light ! Previous scandals and misuse of public funds. The facts speak for themselves.

Robert Tyler

Really, really hope you are right. It’s five to midnight.