Police turned out in more-than-usual force for the first demonstration of what seems likely to be a long – and perhaps nasty – battle against a new Assembly motorway. They obviously want to ensure that the Campaign Against the Levels Motorway (Calm) takes place in a truly calm atmosphere.
Whether the demonstration outside the Senedd will be a precursor of peaceful demos is perhaps dubious – I suppose it all depends who comes across the border to lend (perhaps unwanted) help.
The particular cause of bad congestion on the M4 around Newport is its reduction of lanes from six to four because of the Maesglas tunnels.
Neil Crumpton, the highly-respected campaigner for Friends of the Earth who has been busy on road issues for so many years, was certainly very “calm” when I came across him outside Ty Hywel, the Assembly’s office block.
He argues that the road is now unaffordable because recent events mean its cost has risen from £300m to £600m. Although he admits the widening of the present motorway and tunnels is a possible alternative, he would rather such money were spend on a series of small alternatives.
One such is the growing network of railways in the south-east. Although there is now no talk of electrification, modern diesel trains (admittedly not in use yet on the lines in question) mean that we can increasingly talk of a close-frequency metro network.
And that network is growing. Earlier this year, the Ebbw Vale branch was reopened. Earlier this month, albeit almost totally unpublicised, the first stage was taken by allocating £2.6m to restart services from Ebbw Vale to Newport by summer 2010.
Mr Crumpton spoke about opening new stations on existing lines around Newport to create far more of an urban operation.
But he didn’t seem to realise that full potential will not be gained from the Newport line until more stations were opened along the route – compared with pre-Beeching days, a number of quite important stations have not been reopened.