Heads of the Valleys road project delayed again

The latest section of the Heads of the Valleys road will not be completed until April 2021, the Welsh Government has announced. Eight kilometres of road is due to be turned into a dual carriageway through the Clydach Gorge in Gwent. The work will have taken more than six years to complete, when it was due to last less than four.

The Economy Minister Ken Skates said he is "obviously very disappointed by the further delay".

I have asked the project team to continue to explore what can be done to bring forward these programmed dates. However, the scheme budget [has seen] no further increase despite this latest delay.

- Economy and Transport minister Ken Skates AM Construction started at the end of 2014, when the road was due to be completed by autumn 2018.

It is now expected to overrun by two and a half years, to spring 2021. The cost was originally estimated at GBP223 million, but by last November, the estimate had risen to GBP321 million. But the final cost to the taxpayer is still unknown, as the Welsh Government and the contractors, Costain, have taken a financial dispute to arbitration.

One argument, over the project's design, was settled last year when they were told to split a bill of approximately GBP40 million. Costain's annual profits were halved as a result. Constructing a dual carriageway between Brynmawr and Gilwern, near Abergavenny, was always going to be an engineering challenge, with a series of difficulties to overcome including:

These problems were known to the Welsh Government when it planned the improvement to the A465 Heads of the Valleys road and the construction firm Costain similarly signed the contract. A special 'maternity roosting building' for lesser horseshoe bats was built at the start of the project and a rare Welsh Whitebeam tree was carefully replanted away from the route. But there were still some surprises, ranging from the discovery of asbestos on a former industrial site at the Brynmawr end of the route to finding 67 graves at the former Primitive Methodist chapel in Gilwern.

Particularly expensive was that part of the embankment carrying the existing road was slipping and required extensive pilling and stabilising work.

The original Heads of the Valleys road was built in 1960s and known at the time as "Marples' motorway on the cheap", after the Minister of Transport who decided that a single carriageway was enough.

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