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Scrapped M4 Relief Road cash must be used to fund green recovery

Wales must have full borrowing powers from Westminster to build a green recovery, says the Future Generations Commissioner.

Sophie Howe wants Welsh Government to use the money it could have borrowed for the scrapped £1.6bn M4 Relief Road and invest it in green housing, jobs and infrastructure.

This week, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he wanted to build the 13-mile motorway around Newport, despite the issue being the responsibility of the Welsh Government. Wales’ First Minister announced the project wasn’t going ahead more than a year ago.

Mark Drakeford rejected the proposals last June, over environmental concerns after the Commissioner said the road, which would have cut into the biodiversity-rich Gwent Wetlands, was incompatible with the Well-being of Future Generations legislation.

Not only did the project not align with Wales’ carbon reduction targets, she said, it also went against the Act’s well-being goals of supporting the resilience of ecosystems and a healthier Wales. It also did not take into account future trends such as increased homeworking – something which has been fast forwarded as a result of COVID-19 and research suggests is likely to become a new normal with the potential to reduce congestion on our roads.

Now Ms Howe is calling for Welsh Government to be given the borrowing powers so it can put massive public investment  into a green recovery.  Funding, she says, should be put into projects including improving the quality of existing homes, the expansion and upgrade of Wales’ bus and rail networks and innovative industries including electric vehicles and recycling.

She said: “Wales didn’t need a £1.6bn motorway a year ago and it doesn’t need one now.

 “We need green jobs, industries and infrastructure to recover from the pandemic, and protect ourselves against the uncertainties of another crisis in the form of the climate and nature emergency.”

Organisations from the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) to the UN, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and the International Energy Agency (IEA), along with economists and academics, have called on the Government to invest in a green recovery, which has significant potential to create jobs for the future.

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A  TUC report suggests 1.24 million jobs across the UK could be created through a two-year emergency clean infrastructure stimulus, via fast tracking spending on projects such as broadband, green technology, transport and housing.

The unions body said a ‘massive economic stimulus’ was needed to deliver on good quality jobs, decarbonisation and investment to support industries like steel to transition to lower-carbon models and to develop new and emerging green industries like tidal, marine and hydrogen energy.

Ms Howe, whose role is to protect future generations from the political actions of today, said Wales has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reset its economy.

She said: “Everyone in Wales deserves the health equality that comes from clean air and a commitment to a greener economy.

“To make the changes needed and transition to a net-zero economy, we need visionary ideas and transformative investment.

“Welsh Government needs full borrowing powers to deliver this shift to a green economy. With that investment, we can be UK-leading, and move from an economy built on consumption to one which safeguards jobs and protects the planet for our children.”

The commissioner has called for a Universal Basic Income and a four-day working week to reduce our carbon footprint and keep people well, since her Future Generations Report was published in March.

It is the biggest piece of work since the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act became law in 2015 and Ms Howe is asking Welsh Government to use it to inform a response to the crisis which protects society in the long-term.

The report found Wales is not acting quickly enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the commissioner urged policy-makers to ensure climate action is accelerated, not slowed down, in the response to the crisis.

In a paper outlining five steps to reset the economy, Ms Howe  asked ministers to show political courage in recovery plans, with a focus on quality of life over GDP.

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