AFTER years of waiting, countless delays and millions of pounds of taxpayers' money spent, the M4 relief road has been scrapped.

First minister Mark Drakeford announced on Tuesday he had decided the scheme would not be carried forward, despite a public inquiry – which cost £44 million – recommending it should be given the go-ahead.

Free Press Series: First minister Mark Drakeford.First minister Mark Drakeford.

The current version of the scheme, known as the 'black route', would have seen a new 14-mile stretch of motorway built between Junction 23 at Magor and Junction 29 at Castleton, running south of Newport and bypassing the often-congested Brynglas tunnels. The idea has been in the pipeline since 2013, with the idea of a relief road first suggested in 1991.

The conclusion of the inquiry inspector's report, which was publicly released yesterday, says the scheme is "in the public interest" and "would not have any disproportionate adverse impacts".

But Mr Drakeford said on Tuesday an ever-increasing pricetag – with the scheme estimated to cost upwards of £1.4 billion – as well as the environmental damage the new road would cause to the protected Gwent Levels, meant there was not "a compelling case in the public interest" to give it the green light.

Free Press Series: Rudds feeding at the Gwent Levels. Picture: Simon James BedfordRudds feeding at the Gwent Levels. Picture: Simon James Bedford

In a letter setting out his decision the first minister said he and his cabinet had decided the cost of the scheme "was not acceptable".

"Whilst I recognise that there is a possibility that the Welsh Government's financial position might materially improve at some point in the future, I have no reason to think that this would occur, in the foreseeable future," he said.

The first minister also said he believed if the scheme was given the go-ahead "none of the advantages of the project would in fact be realised in the foreseeable future".

He added: "I attach very significant weight to the fact that the project would have a substantial adverse impact on the Gwent Levels."

Dashing any hopes the scheme could be resurrected, he added there was "no prospect of the project being implemented in the foreseeable future".

But, speaking before the Assembly on Tuesday afternoon, Mr Drakeford said he recognised problems with congestion on the motorway had to be addressed, and announced a new commission will be formed to look at alternative solutions.

The first minister also announced a new series of measures on the M4 in south Wales, including work to clear accidents more quickly, increased traffic officer patrols, and more information on journey times.

"Resolving the congestion issues around the M4 is an important part of those plans, but there are no easy answers," he said.

"We are committed to taking an inclusive and collaborative approach to finding innovative, affordable and sustainable solutions, in the shortest possible timescale."

The decision – which breaks a promise in Labour's manifesto ahead of the 2016 Assembly Election, in which it promised to deliver an M4 relief road – was met with a mixed reaction.

John Griffiths AM, who opposed the scheme, welcomed the decision.

"I agree that the precious Gwent Levels have to be protected and the climate emergency demands new thinking," the Newport East AM said.

"The development of an integrated transport approach with much improved bus and train services is vital.

"The cost of the project would have meant scaling back on our housing, schools and hospital building programmes.

"What we can afford should be spent on integrated transport and better traffic management. We must now get on and deal with the congestion and pollution with a real sense of determination."

And Jessica Morden MP called for other solutions to be brought forward as soon as possible.

Free Press Series: Newport East MP Jessica Morden.Newport East MP Jessica Morden.

"We need a Welsh Government solution that's bold and convincing for commuters and businesses who are sick and tired of the gridlock around Newport," the Newport East MP said. "We need fast-tracked measures to alleviate congestion implemented faster than the five years it would have taken to build the relief road."

Monmouth MP David Davies railed against the decision, saying it would mean "permanent tailbacks on the M4".

"It is bad for business, bad for local construction jobs, bad for commuters," he said. "This is a bitter blow for the Welsh economy and shows that Labour is failing Wales."

Meanwhile, leader of Monmouthshire County Council Cllr Peter Fox called the announcement "a blow to the aspiration of making the entire south Wales economy more vibrant and prosperous".

The relief road scheme had been met with strong opposition from environmental groups concerned about the impact of the proposed new road on the protested Gwent Levels – with a petition calling for the project to be scrapped signed by more than 20,000 people.

And these organisations and campaigners were celebrating Mr Drakeford's announcement.

Chief executive of Gwent Wildlife Trust Ian Rappel said he was "delighted" by the announcement.

"At a time when international studies have revealed that the world is on the brink of the sixth mass extinction, where 40 per cent of our insects are declining and after a climate emergency was recently declared in Wales, the Welsh Government should be congratulated for the bold decisions they are making for the future health of people and wildlife," he said.

Free Press Series: Gwent Wildlife Trust boss Ian Rappel.Gwent Wildlife Trust boss Ian Rappel.

He added: "It's been a long and hard-fought battle but together we have shown that people can make a difference if you stand together, speak out and fight for what is right for the future of people, wildlife and our planet."

Wales' future generations commissioner Sophie Howe, who previously raised objections to the project, said Mr Drakeford had made "a brave decision, but I think it is the right decision for the people of the planet."

"I can understand the frustrations of the people stuck in traffic in Newport, but you don't solve congestion by building more roads," she said. "What we need to do is invest in measures to get people out of their cars."

She added she hoped the new commission would include representatives of environmental groups, business and people living in Newport.

Roadchef, which owns Magor Services, had also previously expressed serious concerns about the plan, claiming the new road would bypass the business, potentially putting 190 jobs at risk.

Free Press Series: Roadchef boss Simon Turl at Magor Services.Roadchef boss Simon Turl at Magor Services.

The company's chairman Simon Turl said he was "relieved" by the announcement.

But other members of the business community were far less positive.

Assistant director of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) in Wales Ian Price called it "a dark day for the Welsh economy".

"After decades of deliberation and over £40 million spent, no problem has been solved today." he said. "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."

And Heather Myers, chief executive of the South and Mid Wales Chamber of Commerce, said she was "bitterly disappointed" with the announcement.

"Businesses who move their goods around and people who travel to work along the motorway will face years more of chaos, hindering economic growth," she said.

Any legal challenge to Tuesday's decision must be launched within three months.