What’s the cost for M4 ‘relief’?

The public inquiry into plans for a new section of motorway through the Gwent Levels has opened for business this week. There’s a lot to say; apparently it’s going to take about five months to hear all the evidence.

In case you’ve missed, the Welsh Government’s preferred route for the planned 15 miles (24km) of ‘relief’ road is for it to cross the levels, and pass south of Newport. Along the way it would need a new bridge over the Usk, and an ancient woodland or two would have to go.

On top of that, trees that were planted to make up for woodland trashed during the building of the existing M4 would also be bulldozed (which doesn’t give me much faith in new promises about compensation for damage done if the new road is built). No surprise that people who care about the environment fans, including Iolo Williamslocals and the Gwent Wildlife Trust.

The Welsh Government reckons its route would cost £1bn, and that it would more than pay for itself by freeing the economy of south-east Wales from the blight of congestion. Opponents say the final bill is more likely to be £2bn – and, of course, damage to a unique landscape.

The inquiry is going to look at no fewer than 22 rival plans. Let’s hope that the Welsh Government is prompted to think again.