Tag: M4

  • The symbolism of the M4 in Wales

    The M4 decision

    With one tweet, the First Minister Mark Drakeford raised Wales’ aspirations, values, and environmental credentials. The decision was publicly opposed by a range of trade bodies and representatives of political parties, including some from the First Minister’s own party.

    The symbolism of this decision is hard to overstate. A project of Carwyn Jones, who would surely have pushed it through despite his own government’s Future Generations Act, this proposal is now where it rightly belongs – on the scrapheap of 20th Century ‘solutions’.

    In making his decision, Mark Drakeford stated that the financial position of Welsh Government would not permit him to make the compulsory purchase orders necessary to proceed with the project. However, he also said that he disagreed with the Inspector, and that the environmental considerations were also too great to allow the project to go ahead.

    The latter part of Prof. Drakeford’s reasoning will have given heart to the many thousands of environmental campaigners who have made this a cause célèbre for the wider environmental movement.

    Most interesting for Afallen though was the statement that the First Minister did not think that the Future Generations Act had been insufficiently regarded in the process.

    “The Member has asked me about the well-being of future generations legislation. I want to make it clear, Llywydd, that I read very carefully the evidence that was given by the commissioner, and I read very carefully the way in which the QC, on behalf of the Welsh Government, responded to her interpretation of the Act. My own view is that it was not a reading of the Act that I heard expressed on the floor of this Assembly that proposals for development have to satisfy all seven goals and all well-being objectives, and that they have to do so equally across all the goals and the objectives. It does seem to me inevitable that, in any plan for development, there will be some balancing between the different goals and the objectives that the Act introduces. I did not dissent from the view of the inspector, therefore, that the requirements of the Act had been fairly represented by the Welsh Government in the way that it presented its evidence on the Act to the inspector.”

    The wider symbolism

    As important – and welcome – as this decision was, there is almost as much value in the symbolism it provides for Wales’ aspirations and its environmental (and fiscal!) credentials. Many campaigners had made the point that were the decision made to press ahead with the project, the Future Generations Act would have been shown to be worthless.

    We do not reach that assessment – although it would surely have been a hammer-blow to the Act and to the credibility of the Office of the Future Generations Commissioner which has robustly opposed the project, including several detailed counter-assessments of its efficacy and proposals. However it’s hard to square the spend of billions of pounds on several miles of tarmac, with the needs of Wales’ citizens as yet unborn. In the public discussion following the decision, it is the future generations – the unborn – who have figured least on the part of supporters of the project.

    We consider that the First Minister was right to make the decision that he did, and to base it on financial and environmental grounds. But we side with the office for Future Generations, and do not consider that all aspects of the WFG Act had been appropriately considered.

    This decision has highlighted the divide that exists in the public debate about Wales’ future direction. If the battle of today in the UK is about #Brexit, in Wales it is as much about how our economy, environment and culture develops. The battle of ideas – and money – has been waged over the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, electrification of the main railway line to Swansea, and the naming of a bridge. The latest decision would appear to suggest that the struggle is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

    To date, it seemed that Wales, in common with standard economic orthodoxy, across the UK and in many other countries, was not sufficiently considering the responsibilities we owe to our citizens, environment and the global community. Perhaps yesterday’s decision redresses the balance somewhat – and there is excitement in the possibility that it may augur the start of a shift from 20th Century thinking more generally in Welsh Government policy.

  • Wales’ Climate Emergency

    Emergency: n. A serious situation or occurrence that demands immediate action.

    Climate: n. The meteorological conditions, including temperature, precipitation, and wind, that characteristically prevail in a particular region.

    On 29 April, Scotland proudly announced itself as the first nation to declare a Climate Emergency. This statement was closely followed by our own from Environment Minister, Lesley Griffiths, who added the voice of Welsh Government to the growing list of towns and cities that have signed up to acknowledge the need for urgent and drastic measures to combat climate change.

    The arrival of National Governments to the Climate Emergency declaration ‘party’ is hugely significant; not just for the undoubted symbolism it provides, and for the political heft that it gives to campaigners within Wales and Scotland, but also because it heralds the likelihood that other countries will follow suit.

    As Lesley Griffiths said, government has a role in making collective action possible. And we certainly do require collective action – both individually and at the nation-state level – if we are to arrest runaway climate change and to ensure that the planet we bequeath to our children and grandchildren is habitable.

    It was interesting to note that the following day saw the First Minister outline the timetable for making a decision on the fate of the proposed new M4 relief road. The first week of June will see Mark Drakeford setting out whether he will grant the legal orders necessary to allow the project to proceed.

    M4 – Not a done deal?

    Although a decision to issue Transport Orders in June would not necessarily guarantee that the project commences – it is still subject to a confirmatory vote in the National Assembly – it would signal that Welsh Government believes that attempting to ease the flow of traffic by building additional road capacity is a potentially higher priority than tackling climate change.

    It would also put Welsh Government in direct conflict with the Office of the Commissioner for Future Generations which has stated that the proposed scheme does not properly take into account the needs of future generations.

    Whilst I have no doubt that our government could produce a narrative which demonstrates that a new piece of motorway is exactly what our young and yet-to-be-born citizens need, it feels to me as though this decision is totemic for what we, as the people of Wales, see as of value. Do we truly value the ability of our future citizens, innocent of blame, to live in a climate which resembles that which we ourselves have experienced? Or do we value more highly the convenience of private car owners in a small corner of Wales to shave a few minutes from their journey time?

    It is Business as Usual, with modest tweaks, which has got us into this emergency. And if it really is, as Welsh Government states, an emergency, then we need drastic, radical measures, individually and collectively, to avoid tragic outcomes for our ecosystems.

    Credit where it’s due

    I applaud Welsh Government for making such a brave statement of intent on the Climate Emergency, as I have consistently applauded the creation and implementation of the Well-being of Future Generations Act. But if intent is to have meaning, we must make decisions differently. We must prioritise accordingly. And we must take every opportunity to decide against projects and systems which increase poor outcomes for the environment.

    In giving credit to Welsh Government for their statement, I would also like to pay homage to the thousands of Welsh campaigners who have become part of the Extinction Rebellion movement, which has undoubtedly played an immense role in raising the issue within the national consciousness. Their bravery, tenacity and self-sacrifice is both humbling and heartening. We owe a debt of gratitude to our fellow citizens for campaigning on behalf of our future generations, and on behalf of the ecosystems which will continue to support them in the decades to come.

    This post was first published by the Institute of Welsh Affairs