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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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Wales’ hospitality sector will prepare to re-open outdoors from 13 July

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The Minister signalled the first phase of a planned reopening for bars, restaurants and cafes with outdoor spaces following a rapid review of the sector. 

A final decision about outdoor re-opening will be made at the next review of the coronavirus regulations on 9 July and will depend on whether rates of coronavirus are continuing to fall.

Future decisions about indoor re-opening will be made later and will depend on the success of the first phase of outdoor opening.

The Minister will today also confirm the timetable for re-opening outdoor visitor attractions and the partial opening of the tourism industry in Wales for the remainder of the summer season.

If the requirement to stay local is lifted in Wales on 6 July, outdoor visitor attractions will be able to reopen from Monday.

And, subject to the forthcoming review of coronavirus regulations on 9 July, the tourism sector is preparing to re-open self-contained accommodation.

The Minister will today confirm the date that owners of self-contained accommodation can accept bookings is being brought forward to 11 July from 13 July, to help with the pattern of Saturday-to-Saturday bookings.

Minister for International Relations and the Welsh Language Eluned Morgan said:

“Tourism is a vital part of the Welsh economy at a national, regional and local level. I’d like to thank all our industry partners for working with us to carefully reopen the visitor economy.

“A successful, safe and phased return will give businesses, communities and visitors confidence to continue with the recovery of the visitor economy.

“We ask everyone who travels to and around Wales to enjoy their time here, but always to respect local communities. We are looking forward to welcoming visitors back to Wales – but we want everyone to Visit Wales Safely.”

Guidance to help businesses in Wales’ visitor economy has been published this week. Further guidance for cafes, bars and pubs will follow.

Visit Wales has also worked with the other national tourism organisations on a UK-wide industry standard and consumer mark to provide reassurance as the sector works towards reopening.

The Good To Go industry standard and supporting mark means businesses can demonstrate they are adhering to the respective government and public health guidance; have carried out a COVID-19 risk assessment and checked they have the required processes in place. The scheme is free to join and open to all businesses across the industry.

Folly Farm are ready to welcome back its loyal annual pass holders from 8 July and will open to all on 13 July.

Zoe Wright, head of marketing at Folly Farm, said:

“We’ve been preparing for our re-opening for several weeks and are looking forward to welcoming visitors back to Folly Farm, safely.

“We’ve been hugely encouraged by the support we’ve received from our visitors and our local community. Lots of local accommodation providers have been sharing our staying safe re-opening guide ahead of their guests returning.

“We’ve got lots of measures in place to keep our visitors, staff, animals and our wider community safe, including the essential pre-booking of visits so we can limit visitor numbers and provide even more space across our 120-acre site. As an animal attraction, we’re naturally geared up to offer and encourage regular handwashing but we’ve added hand-sanitising stations across the park too.

“Our animals provide a fun way to encourage visitors, especially the younger ones, to follow our social distancing signage with paw prints marking out a safe distance in queuing areas and penguin and pig themed arrows for our one way systems.”

Sean Taylor, Founder & President of Zip World is making preparations to open on 6th of July and said: “As one of North Wales’s biggest outdoor tourist attractions, there is a huge responsibility in the way we restart our operations.  We have a strong sense of community and have an important role to play in rebuilding the region’s visitor economy all of which has to be managed responsibly and firmly in line with the current government guidelines.

“We have spent the last few months rethinking the logistics of our operations to keep staff, customers and the community safe.  To begin with, the reopening will be a staggered approach by only opening two of our three sites initially and 6 of our adventures. This means a reduction in capacity and we have also introduced robust hygiene regimes, clear wayfinding & signage, PPE and the use of tech where possible to reduce consumer touch points. There is now a simple 6 steps guide for all customers to follow before and during their visit – this includes signing the waiver online pre visit, contactless payments etc.”

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South West Wales Virtual Open Day 8 July

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Welsh local authorities, schools, colleges and work-based learning providers will be hosting a series of Virtual Open Days for Year 11 pupils for the first time this month.

An event specifically for pupils from Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Neath Port Talbot, Llanelli, Swansea and Powys will be held on Wednesday 8 July and will cover a series of sessions on post-16 options including A Levels at sixth form or college as well as work-based qualifications.

Jonathan Davies OBE will host the sessions on apprenticeships and traineeships and will be on hand to field questions about how to apply and get the most from industry-led training opportunities.

Other sessions will be led by Pembrokeshire College, NPTC Group of Colleges, Coleg Sir Gar and Coleg Ceredigion as well as Careers Wales and local authorities.

The spread of COVID-19 has not only meant a break in students’ learning, but also the cancellation of many planned events like open days which were scheduled to take place throughout the summer.

Open days are vital ways of helping Year 11 pupils to understand all their options for continuing their education and deciding on the right path for them. It’s also the way pupils make connections with new people and different environments to support them in making their decision.

With no indication yet of when face-to-face events might be able to go ahead again, over 220 schools, colleges and work-based learning providers across Wales are partnering with the Welsh Government to hold virtual sessions for all Year 11 pupils in Wales to make sure nobody misses out.

Organised by Welsh Government and hosted by Working Wales, the Virtual Open Days will enable young people across Wales to discover the options for furthering their education in their area, including what school and college courses are available, as well as training opportunities like apprenticeships and traineeships, and access to careers advice from
Careers Wales.

Live sessions will be held for each region across Wales from 7 – 10 July, with lots of additional content available throughout the second week of July and beyond. There will also be the opportunity to put questions to local careers advisors and learning providers who know about the provision in your area.

Virtual Open Days will be hosted online, but those without internet access at home will have the option to phone and speak directly with schools, colleges and work-based learning providers.

Welsh Government will be providing information about the full range of Virtual Open Days, as well as links to partner websites and content, on Working Wales where there will also be advice for those students who are unsure of what they want to do next.

Kirsty Williams, Minister for Education, said: “Now more than ever, it’s vital that young people are equipped with the skills, information and training they need to find fulfilling work.

“If you’re a young person, you may be unsure of what you want to do after school, or whether you want to continue in education at all. Open days can play a vital role in helping access the right education or training, providing a vital insight into the different courses and ways of learning that are available to young people considering their next options.

“Virtual Open Days are a really innovative way to explore options digitally and will help young people in deciding what to do next. Whether you are shielding at home, returning to school to say goodbye for the summer, or are not sure what to do next, our national virtual open days will ensure learners in every region of Wales have the opportunity to engage and
ask questions at this important time.”

Nikki Lawrence, chief executive of Careers Wales, said: “Deciding what the next step is with your education is an important time for young people across Wales and we want to make sure that they are still able to explore the different options that are available.

“During the four days we will be offering additional support from our expert careers advisers who will be available via our live web chat. This will enable young people who are not sure what the next step is to get the advice and guidance they need.”

To find out more about Wales’ Virtual Open Days, call Working Wales on 0800 028 4844 or go to www.workingwales.gov.wales/start-your-story

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25 apprenticeship in the construction industry on offer

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Applications are still being taken for up to 25 paid apprenticeships through the Next Steps programme.

Now in its 11th year, Next Steps is open to men and women living in Carmarthenshire aged 16 and over who have an interest in obtaining qualifications in groundworks, carpentry, bricklaying, plastering, electrics, plumbing and painting and decorating. No previous experience is required.

Working in partnership, Carmarthenshire County Council, Lloyd & Gravell, TRJ, Coleg Sir Gar, CCTAL and CYFLE the Next Step Programme is looking for up to 25 people to become professionals of the future.

Successful candidates will have the opportunity to learn through a practical hands-on experience.

The programme has already changed the lives of countless local people – including people who have gone on to set up their own business and win national skills competitions, as well as children and adults with severe disabilities who have benefitted from community projects built by the Next Steps teams.

The successful candidates will commence a minimum two-year paid apprenticeship/training programme with Lloyd & Gravell Ltd, TRJ Ltd, CYFLE or Carmarthenshire County Council starting September 2020.

A basic knowledge of Welsh is required to accomplish this post. Support can be provided on appointment to reach this level. For further information and to download an application form visit https://recruitment.carmarthenshire.gov.uk/wrlive/pages/vacancy.jsf?latest=01007474

Deadline for entries is July 6.

For an informal discussion please contact Jason Jones – 07880 504117

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