Proposals to build a £1.1bn road to ease congestion on the M4 fail to set out how it will meet the needs of our future generations who will be burdened with paying for it,” says Sophie Howe, Future Generations Commissioner for Wales.

A Public Local Inquiry into the scheme will hear evidence next week. Ms Howe, who has submitted written evidence [1] to the inquiry says:

“The scheme was conceived 25 years ago with the main purpose of addressing current congestion but it doesn’t properly reflect technological advancements that are transforming the way we live, work and travel.

“It fails to take into account emerging future trends in transport, such as the rapid increase in rail passengers over the past five years, the predicted emergence of driverless vehicles which could reduce congestion and the change in working patterns which has already seen fewer people needing to commute to work every day. These trends also reveal that young men in their twenties are not choosing the car as their preferred mode of transport (their average car mileage falling by around 2,000 miles a year and with 11% fewer holding driving licences) and some experts[2] predict that young people born today will not learn to drive because there will be no need due to technological developments in our transport systems.

Future Generations Champion for Children in Wales Joshua Chohan, has joined the Commissioner in sharing his concerns. He said:

“Whatever the decision, I hope the implications for Children and Young People and future generations are fully considered.”

The Well-being of Future Generations Act requires public bodies, including the Welsh Government, to improve not only the economic but also the environmental, social and cultural well-being of future generations and to think about the long-term impact of the decisions they make.

Ms Howe says, “Large infrastructure projects such as this provide an ideal opportunity for those responsible to demonstrate how they are fulfilling their duties in relation to the Act.  I do not believe that the proposed scheme appropriately applies the principle of taking decisions in a way that benefits future generations.

“Building roads is an old fashioned solution to addressing congestion and we should instead be seeking to invest in better public transport which would be a more useful solution for the 25% of Welsh families who have no access to a car whilst also supporting the obligations we have to reduce our carbon footprint”

“Taking this approach could ultimately prove to be a much better way of spending the £1.1bn to better support the well-being of those who will be paying for it.”

Notes to editors

The Commissioner is currently working with the New Economics Foundation (NEF) to develop a framework to assess infrastructure projects using the five ways of working and seven well-being goals set out in the Well-being of Future Generations Act.

Using this framework to assess the proposed M4 relief road, the Commissioner concludes that the Scheme does not appear likely to deliver well-being for future generations in Wales, when considered in relation to the goals and ways of working set out in the Act.

The Scheme does not provide sufficient evidence and analysis of its long-term impact to critical concerns such as:

  • Ecological resilience
  • Sustainable and appropriate economic growth (in line with the “Prosperous Wales” goal in the Act)
  • Proportionate and responsible resource use
  • Wales’ ecological footprint and carbon emissions

Future Trends include:

  • Automated vehicles – with rapid advancements in the sector children born today may never need to drive a car and may lead to accommodation of higher traffic volumes and less accidents
  • Rail passenger numbers have increased rapidly over the past few years and shows no sign of slowing down
  • Future working patterns – it is forecast that more people will be working flexible work patterns
  • Car ownership- the rate of car ownership has slowed, especially amongst young men in their 20s, and Millennials are increasingly turning to using on-demand mobility such as Uber and ZipCar

Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act (2015)

The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act is about improving the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales. It will make the public bodies listed in the Act think more about the long-term, work better with people and communities and each other, look to prevent problems and take a more joined-up approach.

To make sure we are all working towards the same vision, the Act puts in place seven well-being goals.

  •          A prosperous Wales
  •             A resilient Wales
  •             A healthier Wales
  •             A more equal Wales
  •             A Wales of cohesive communities
  •             A Wales of vibrant culture and thriving Welsh Language
  •             A globally responsible Wales

Five ways of working

Long Term – The importance of balancing short-term needs with the need to safeguard the ability to also meet long-term needs

Prevention – How acting to prevent problems occurring or getting worse may help public bodies meet their objectives

Integration – Considering how the public body’s well-being objectives may impact upon each of the well-being goals, on their other objectives, or on the objectives of other public bodies

Collaboration – Acting in collaboration with any other person (or different parts of the body itself) that could help the body to meet its well-being objectives

Involvement – The importance of involving people with an interest in achieving the well-being goals, and ensuring that those people reflect the diversity of the area which the body serves

[1] Future Generations Commissioner evidence to the inquiry