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Newport conservative candidates’ M4 tunnel idea branded ‘crazy’ by local Tories

The M4 approaching the Brynglas Tunnels in Newport (Pic: Google)

TWO Conservative candidates in Newport have proposed building tunnels under the city as one way to ease congestion on the M4 – in a plan branded “absolute madness” and “crazy” by other local Tories.

Rachel Buckler and Nick Jones say they are “committed to finding a sustainable solution” to the city’s “severely restricted” motorway, plagued by “frequent gridlocks, increased pollution” and also having wider economic impacts.

The two candidates have launched a survey asking residents to choose their preferred methods of tackling traffic issues on the M4.

But their proposals, which include reviving the scrapped relief road project and building two-lane “deep tunnels under Newport”, have come under fire from local members of their own party.

City councillor David Fouweather criticised the proposals as a “pie in the sky idea, drawn up by an activist and unfortunately endorsed by two inexperienced candidates who should know better”.

“The proposal itself is absolute madness, as it would cost approximately ten times the amount spent on the proposed relief road,” added Cllr Fouweather.

Transport in Wales is devolved, and then-first minister Mark Drakeford abandoned the relief road project in 2019 over concerns about rising costs and the environmental impact on the protected Gwent Levels wetlands.

Since then, the Welsh Conservatives have often pledged to revive the scheme, including at a local level during the 2019 General Election and as a party group during the 2021 Senedd Election.

Ms Buckler and Mr Smith have put forward the original “Black Route” and a possible other relief road route as potential solutions to local M4 congestion – but it is the revival of another idea, that of tunnels below Newport, which has proved controversial among some other city Conservatives.

Echoing Cllr Fouweather’s concerns, another Tory party member from Newport told the Local Democracy Reporting Service the suggestion of building a tunnel was “ludicrous” and was mooted in 2017 to cost nearly £10 billion, before considering recent inflation.

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They added: “A lot of local Conservative members are just astounded and bewildered. I’d be extremely surprised if this has been signed off by the Conservatives in Cardiff Bay. Can you imagine Andrew RT Davies having to stand in the Senedd and justify the spending of £12bn on building a tunnel? It’s crazy.”

Ms Buckler and Mr Jones have not responded to those concerns, but in their survey, say drivers on the M4 endure “endless queues and frequent gridlock”, which they claim their party “can solve”.

A Welsh Conservative spokesman accused Welsh Labour of having “no ideas” on how to solve M4 issues since scrapping the relief road in 2019.

“Our candidates are engaging with their constituents for their ideas on how to get Wales moving,” the Conservative spokesperson added. “Whilst this isn’t Welsh Conservative policy, we look forward to hearing solutions on how to open up South Wales for business, creating jobs.”

The Welsh Liberal Democrats called the Newport Tory candidates’ transport proposals “yet another example of the Welsh Conservatives setting up more promises they don’t intend to keep”.

“This proposed tunnel under Newport will no doubt join the Irish Sea Bridge and the electrification of the South Wales mainline on the list of false promises made by the Conservative party,” a Lib Dem spokesperson added.

Pippa Bartolotti, an independent candidate for Newport East, said the proposals were like “trying to crack a nut with a sledgehammer”.

She said people “need to think smart” and advocated for public transport investment, such as a light rail network, as a “clean, low-cost alternative to road travel” in Newport.

A Welsh Government spokesperson, responding to the Tories’ “no ideas” claim, said: “Transport for Wales is currently developing the recommendations of the South East Wales Transport Commission to improve connectivity between Newport, Cardiff and the wider region.

“This includes design and development work for five new railway stations on the South Wales Mainline, improvements to local bus services, and changes to make it easier to walk and cycle.”

Candidates in Newport West and Islwyn:

  • George Etheridge (Independent)
  • Brandon Ham (Plaid Cymru)
  • Mike Hamilton (Liberal Democrats)
  • Nick Jones (Conservative and Unionist Party)
  • Ruth Jones (Labour Party)
  • Paul Taylor (Reform UK)
  • Kerry Ann Vosper (Green Party)

Candidates in Newport East:

  • Pippa Bartolotti (Independent)
  • Rachel Egerton Buckler (Conservative and Unionist Party)
  • Jonathan Clark (Plaid Cymru)
  • Mike Ford (Heritage Party)
  • Lauren James (Green Party)
  • John Miller (Liberal Democrats)
  • Jessica Morden (Labour Party)
  • Tommy Short (Reform UK)