The news that M4 Junction 41 is to be closed has provoked universal dismay in Port Talbot.
The Welsh Government has announced the temporary closure of the junction for a trial period starting this summer, in a bid to ease congestion on the busy motorway.
Rush-hour tailbacks have plagued the stretch of motorway for years, but traders and shoppers say the closure of Port Talbot’s main access to the M4 will kill off the town centre.
Steve Garvey, president of Port Talbot Chamber of Trade, told the BBC: “Take that junction away from us and there’s no reason to come to Port Talbot anymore – you might as well go to another town or a retail park.”
Steve Redmore, manager of the nearby Aberafan shopping centre said more than 5,000 people have already filled in a petition against the closure.
Lynne Rees, author of Real Port Talbot, has written to Edwina Hart, pleading for the decision to be overturned.
“Please visit the town and the Aberafan Shopping Centre that is principally accessed by this junction. Take a look at the poor alternative access to Cwmafan and Pontrhydyfen, the gateways to the Afan Valley,” she writes.
“Even a trial closure will irreparably damage the community: the inconvenience and extended travelling will discourage people from making the extra effort. People from the west of the town will find it easier to travel to Neath. Once that habit has become practice it is unlikely that people will return to previous patterns.
“Short-sighted decisions have been the bane of Port Talbot since the 1960s. The community needs the support and encouragement of ministers and officials who can think long term and not look for quick-fix solutions.
“If any trials have to be implemented then the conversion of short stretches of hard shoulder, on both sides of this part of the motorway, to create a third filter lane could be a promising alternative.”
Resident Scott Dale said: “Sunny Croft Roundabout, the Dual from Briton Ferry through Baglan etc and all the Baglan Moors area will be an absolute nightmare. The bottom line is that this closure benefits everyone except the people of Port Talbot.”
Gemma Lewis added: “I live close to junction 41 therefore don’t benefit from the new road, it will mean me driving through Taibach which at present isn’t able to handle the flow of traffic as it is let alone the significant increase at peak times.”
David Rees, the assembly member for Aberavon, said he was ‘outraged’ by the decision.
“I must convey my huge disappointment at this decision to trial a closure of this junction. I fully understand that there are traffic delays at peak hours along this stretch, but such a situation is no different to that affecting key trunk roads in other areas, particularly Cardiff and Swansea,” he said.
Aberavon MP Hywel Francis is also opposing the move. He said: “The very route of the M4 through Port Talbot was very controversial 50 years ago: we have come to terms with that but we appear now to be punished once again by having our local businesses threatened.
“Speed of traffic flows past Port Talbot, which is a concern for the Welsh Government, is one thing: as the local MP I am more concerned about the access of into the town and on to our seafront. I am also concerned about increased journey times for the emergency services and access of my constituents in the Afan Valley on to the M4: they will be seriously disadvantaged.”
In a statement to assembly members on Tuesday, Transport Minister Edwina Hart said: “As part of this study I have agreed to the trial closure of the westbound on-slip and eastbound off-slip roads at junction 41 under an experimental order with the aim of improving traffic flows on the M4 motorway through the Port Talbot area.”
She said it would allow “monitoring and assessment of the benefits and provide real data to inform the decision on the way forward”. The public are also being invited to comment.
It’s not clear how long the trial closure is set to last. David Rees AM said: “Although the proposals outline a temporary closure, there is no indicated end-date, and an experimental order of this kind can last up to 18 months, with objections to it becoming permanent required to be submitted within the first six months.”
He urged people to sign the e-petition against the closure on the National Assembly’s website
To sign the petition, click here