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M4 relief road cancelled after cost estimates rise to over £2 billion

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THE WELSH Government has ditched plans to build an M4 relief road.

After years of planning, a lengthy public inquiry, and extensive controversy both about the delays in making a decision and the potential environmental impact of the new road, First Minister Mark Drakeford announced his widely anticipated decision to cancel the project in a statement issued on Tuesday, June 4.

The M4 relief road was a marquee project for the Welsh Government; however, internal Labour politics slowed down progress towards a decision with the result that former First Minister Carwyn Jones passed the buck for the final decision to his successor. Mr Jones favoured the scheme, while Mr Drakeford was more equivocal about its prospects.

Originally proposed in 1991, the scheme was dropped by the Welsh Government in 2009 on grounds of cost (then an estimated £1bn) before being revived in 2011. The project secured UK Treasury support in 2013 and was approved by the then-Welsh Government Transport Minister Edwina Hart in 2014, with a completion date of 2022.

Since 2014, the road lingered in development hell through a raft of consultations and a public inquiry.

M4 decision: Drakeford slated for dither and delay

The First Minister’s decision to cancel the scheme raises questions about the huge amount of public money and government manpower expended on it. His principal objection is the same as that which led to the original scheme’s cancellation in 2009: money, or the Welsh Government lack of it/unwillingness to spend it.

Friends of the Earth Cymru director Haf Elgar said: “This is great news for Wales and the planet.

“As well as costing Welsh taxpayers over £2 billion pounds, this devastating road would have ploughed through the unique, wildlife-rich Gwent Levels, pumped more climate-wrecking emissions into our atmosphere, and ultimately caused even more congestion and air pollution.

“This decision is a testament to the untiring efforts of local residents who have opposed this plan over decades and is a clear signal that the Welsh Government is taking its climate emergency declaration and commitment to future generations seriously.”

Ian Price, CBI Wales Director, said: “This is a dark day for the Welsh economy. After decades of deliberation and over £40m spent, no problem has been solved today. Congestion and road pollution around Newport can only increase. Economic growth will be stifled, confidence in the region will weaken and the cost of an eventual relief road will rise

“Today’s announcement is a short-term measure that regrettably solves nothing and sends the message that Wales is not open for business.

“As the Welsh Government said at the public inquiry, the black route would emit less carbon emissions than the current road and the whole project would be carbon neutral by 2070. The wider south Wales region around Cardiff and Newport constitute only 4% of Welsh carbon emissions in total. That figure will now likely rise at a higher rate than if the black route had been built.”

On  his Facebook page, Stephen Crabb MP said: “They’ve bottled it. The Welsh First Minister’s decision not to give the M4 relief road the green light is short sighted and will be deeply frustrating for number of commuters, businesses and tourists.

“I’ve spoken to numerous Pembrokeshire businesses, from hauliers to tourism operators, who are all fully aware the damage the congestion around Newport does for our local economy. One Pembrokeshire haulage firm alone runs 40 lorries each way through the M4 bottle neck each day, with drivers calling it a ‘no go’ area between 7.30am and 10am in the morning and from 4pm to 6.30pm in the afternoon.

“This decision even contradicts the independent public enquiry led by a planning inspector which backed the project. This is a failure of devolution as the Welsh Assembly was supposed to help projects such as this get off the ground.

“I recently held a debate in Parliament about the importance of this project for the wider Welsh economy, so it is very disappointing that Mark Drakeford has dropped it especially as this issue has dragged on for nearly 30 years.”

Full in-depth coverage in The Herald this Friday

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Outdoor hospitality given go-ahead and rules on mixing outdoors relaxed in Wales

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SIX people will be able to meet outdoors in Wales from Saturday 24 April while outdoor hospitality will be allowed to reopen from Monday 26 April as cases of new COVID-19 infections continue to fall, First Minister Mark Drakeford has confirmed today.

The current rule provides for up to six people (not including children under 11 years of age or carers) from a maximum of two households to meet outdoors.

The new rules from Saturday will allow six people (not including children under 11 years of age or carers) to meet outdoors.

People should observe social distancing from people from outside their household or support bubble when meeting others outside.

The rules for meeting indoors remain unchanged.

The First Minister has also confirmed outdoor hospitality will be allowed to reopen from Monday 26th April 2021.

First Minister, Mark Drakeford said: “The public health context in Wales remains favourable, with cases falling and our vaccination programme continues to go from strength to strength. Because meeting outdoors continues to be lower risk than meeting indoors, we are able to bring forward changes to allow any six people to meet outdoors.

“This will provide more opportunities for people, especially young people, to meet outdoors with their friends. This will undoubtedly have a significant positive impact on people’s wellbeing.

“I’m also pleased to confirm outdoor hospitality will be allowed to reopen from Monday 26th April.

“These changes will help the hospitality sector recover after a difficult twelve months.

“It is thanks to the continuing efforts of people across Wales we are able to introduce this change. Together, we will continue to keep Wales safe.”

On Friday (23rd April 2021), the First Minister will confirm further relaxations to the covid rules that will come into force on Monday 26 April 2021.

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Scientists issue urgent appeal for help on ground-breaking Covid genetic study

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SCIENTISTS involved in a ground-breaking COVID-19 genetic research study are urgently asking people across Wales who caught the virus to donate a small amount of blood to their project.

To help encourage as many people as possible to join the study, volunteers are now able to quickly and easily book an appointment for a nurse to visit their home and donate a sample.

The unique GenOMICC COVID-19 Study, which is being delivered in Wales through Health and Care Research Wales, analyses the genes of people who have had the virus to discover why some experienced mild or no symptoms while others became extremely ill. The study is already contributing to the fight again COVID, with preliminary results helping identify possible new treatments.

study open to anyone who caught COVID but didn’t need hospital treatment

However, for the study to continue to make progress, the scientists urgently need to recruit 2,500 more people from all backgrounds. Along with seeking the help of members of Asian and Black communities, they’re also keen for more men to volunteer.

The home appointment system has already proved popular when the scheme was launched in Scotland and Bradford earlier this year – and with lockdown restrictions beginning to be eased in Wales, organisers are hoping for a similar response from people across the country.

“This study has one key objective – to help us understand why COVID-19 has impacted different groups in different ways,” said Dr Matt Morgan, Consultant in Intensive Care Medicine at the University Hospital of Wales and Specialty Lead for Critical Care at Health and Care Research Wales.

“Across the UK, a disproportionate number of people who ended up in hospital have been male as well as people with Asian and Black heritage – that’s why we need people from these groups in particular to join the study as soon as possible.”

“If you are eligible, please register and join the project. You’ll be making a direct contribution to helping improve our knowledge of the virus and discovering new ways of beating it.”

scientists issue urgent appeal for assistance to help them identify new treatments

Dr Kenneth Baillie, the study’s Chief Investigator, said: “We’re appealing for more volunteers from all walks of life to come forward and register. We need to find people who tested positive for COVID but experienced either mild or no symptoms and didn’t require hospital treatment. To maximise the study’s potential, it’s important these volunteers are similar in age, gender and ethnicity of those people who were severely affected and hospitalised.”

Professor Sir Mark Caulfied, Chief Scientist at Genomics England added: “The quicker this research can be completed, the faster we can solve the COVID-19 puzzle and protect vulnerable people.

Genetic research into COVID-19 is now playing an increasingly important role in our fight against the virus, enabling us to identify new forms of the virus and develop treatments.

“The findings from the GenOMICC COVID-19 Study will improve the treatment, care and outcome for those most at risk and lower the number of deaths.”

Dr Nicola Williams, Director of Support and Delivery at Health and Care Research Wales, said: “It’s vital we learn as much as possible about COVID-19 and to do that we need people to volunteer to take part in research. By introducing an appointment booking system, the GenOMICC COVID-19 Study is giving people the opportunity to contribute to potentially life-saving research from their own homes. These contributions can help provide the evidence we need to give all patients the best possible outcome.”

The research project is open to anyone who tested positive to COVID-19 but experienced mild or no symptoms and didn’t require hospital treatment – volunteers can register online here.

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A Llanelli household is hospitalised following reports of an “unknown substance”

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REPORTS of an “unknown substance” at a Llanelli property led to a multi-agency operation.

Police, ambulance and the fire service descended on a property in a village, just outside of Five Roads, Llanelli,  following reports of members of the household feeling unwell and the presence of an “unknown substance”.

Three members of the household in Five Roads, Llanelli, Carmarthenshire were taken to hospital as a precaution.

Emergency services were alerted to members of the household feeling unwell and the presence of an ‘unknown substance’ on Sunday, April 11 at 7.30am.

The ambulance service were first on the scene with one rapid response vehicle, four emergency ambulances and the Hazardous Area Response Team and were supported by police and the fire service.

A spokesperson for the Welsh Ambulance Service said: “We were called to a residential property in the village of Five Roads, Llanelli at 7.30am on Sunday, April 11 to reports of three people needing medical attention.

“We responded with one rapid response vehicle, four emergency ambulances and our Hazardous Area Response Team.

“Three patients were taken to Glangwili Hospital, Carmarthen, for further treatment.”

Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service (MAWWFRS) assisted the police and ambulance service, deploying a specialist officer and an Environmental Protection Unit to the property.

The service ventilated the property and remained on the scene until 5.29pm.

A MAWWFRS spokesperson said: “At 7:44am, crews from Llanelli were called to assist the ambulance service and police at an incident in a property in Five Roads, Llanelli.

“An unknown substance was found at the property and its occupants reported feeling unwell.

“The occupants were taken to hospital by the ambulance service.”

“The incident was contained to one property and there were no concerns for the wider community of Five Roads.”

A Dyfed-Powys Police Spokesperson confirmed the force assisted in the multi-operation incident.

A spokesperson said:: “Members of one household in the village were feeling unwell, and were taken to hospital for assessment.

“They were found to have no medical concerns.

“Following examination of the scene by a number of agencies, there was no cause for further investigation into the incident.”

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