THE Welsh Government says efforts to improve air quality in Newport are progressing "at pace" and a 50mph average speed limit on the M4 has already reaped rewards.

It comes after our sister title, South Wales Argus revealed some areas of the city were among the worst in the UK for harmful levels of pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide.

A minister says the government is investing more in Newport's Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) scheme, and plans for a public transport revolution will give people a "network of alternatives" to the car.

The current 50mph motorway limit was introduced to reduce congestion and, consequently, to reduce the amount of pollution emitted by cars stuck in traffic jams.

An aerial view of Malpas and the Brynglas Tunnels in Newport, often a choking point on the M4.File photograph of congestion on the M4 in Newport. Pollution levels at sites along the route in the city greatly exceed World Health Organisation limits. Picture: Mark Lewis

But a regional Welsh Conservative MS says moves to slow down traffic on the M4 end up "irritating drivers" and the government should look at other ways to cut pollution.

The city's first Green Party councillor, meanwhile, says public transport is the answer, but politicians have to give people "reliable, efficient and cost-effective" reasons not to drive.

Call for 'reliable' public transport

Using data from addresspollution.org the Argus looked at the situation in Newport AQMAs, where pollution is known to be a problem. Five of the 11 areas are sited alongside the motorway, but others are further afield including the city centre, Caerleon and Rogerstone.

Green Party councillor Lauren James said the council's priority for cutting pollution should be "reliable public transport that is regular enough on main routes for residents to just show up at a bus stop without having to plan their day around it".

While she acknowledged the council had "made a start on this", Cllr James said the replacement of the Allt-Yr-Yn to Brynglas bus service with a non-timetabled Fflecsi service meant passengers in her Shaftesbury ward found it "often too busy to book - and even buses along Malpas Road are fewer and farther between than pre-pandemic levels".

Commission's plans will 'make a difference'

The decision to scrap plans for an M4 relief road in 2019 was followed by the founding of the South East Wales Transport Commission, headed by Lord Terry Burns. In its final recommendations, the commission recommended a complete overhaul of the region's public transport network - a proposal quickly adopted by the Welsh Government.

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Lee Waters, the deputy minister for climate change, said the government-owned Transport for Wales was "working at pace with local authorities to push forward measures that can make a difference for people quickly", including bus and cycle routes between Newport and Cardiff.

Longer-term plans include six new railway stations on the South Wales Main Line and a "single integrated" bus and train network that means "everyone in South East Wales will be empowered to travel more sustainably".

An aerial view of Malpas and the Brynglas Tunnels in Newport, often a choking point on the M4.Composite image showing Lee Waters and Natasha Asghar. Original pictures: Huw Evans Picture Agency (left)/PA Wire (right)/Pexels (background)

But shadow transport minister Natasha Asghar, who represents the South Wales East region, said there were "more effective ways of alleviating congestion on the M4 other than punishing drivers with 50mph speed limits".

This could include building a new junction for the M48 in Monmouthshire, she suggested.

“The current set up on the M4 is just causing misery for motorists and is holding back our economy," Ms Asghar added. "Labour needs to scrap the 50mph speed cameras and come up with a serious set of solutions."