M4 relief road plans submission questioned
FUTURE Generations Commissioner Sophie Howe has accused the Welsh Government of misinterpreting its own law in seeking to persuade a planning inspector to back plans for a £1bn M4 relief road.
In a submission to the ongoing public inquiry into the Welsh Government’s proposal to build a new section of the M4 bypassing the notorious bottleneck of the Brynglas Tunnels, Ms Howe takes issue with arguments put by the Government to the inspector.
Business groups like the CBI argue that a relief road is needed to make access to South Wales easier. They support the Welsh Government’s preferred “black route” which would go across Newport docks and through the sensitive landscape of the Gwent Wetlands.
Ms Howe’s role as commissioner was created in the wake of the Well-being of Future Generations Act, which places a legal obligation on public bodies to take into account the impact of all strategic decisions on future generations.
The M4 public inquiry is due to resume next week, and she has asked for permission to have an additional submission considered.
In it she asserts that the Welsh Government has misinterpreted the Act during its presentation of the case for a relief road in earlier hearings. She states: “The misapplication of the duties under the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 in this case might set a wrong precedent which I am keen to avoid. The legislation provides a new framework for decision making in Wales, and requires a dramatic shift in the way we take decisions in Wales; my role is to ensure that these new ways of working and making decisions are adopted by those organisations covered by the Act.”
Ms Howe goes on to say that officials and witnesses at the inquiry who have claimed to apply “sustainable development” principles have not done so in accordance with the requirements of the Act. The Act expects policy-makers to consider the implications of their decisions on the economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales – known as the four pillars of well-being.
Ms Howe states: “The new Act requires public bodies to take holistic decisions and to cease making decisions which harm critical elements of well-being, including social economic environmental and cultural elements... I would expect that decisions only contributing to one or two pillars of wellbeing to be disregarded and those that have multiple benefits across each of the elements of well-being to be selected. The balancing in this revolutionary Act means giving as equal as possible weight to each element and not allowing one to tip the scale.”
The inquiry resumes on Tuesday.