Shapps puts roll-out of smart motorways on hold

31/01/2020
Dominic Browne

The roll-out of smart motorways has been put on hold due to safety concerns, transport secretary Grant Shapps has announced.

Speaking in parliament My Shapps said that the ongoing review of smart motorways - announced in October last year, and now some months late - had 'uncovered a range of issues that I am not content simply to brush over'.

He told MPs that no new smart motorways will be opened until he had the 'outcome of the stocktake'.

'I have (therefore) requested further information, and we are nearly there. In this process, I have specifically included going back to, speaking to and in one case meeting the families of those who have been affected by these issues,' Mr Shapps said.

'We must make them at least as safe, if not safer, otherwise they cannot continue. But we have to do this as a fact-based process. I am interested, rightly, in speaking to the families of the victims as well as to organisations such as the AA and the RAC and to Members of this House.'

He concluded that a stretch of the M20 being converted to smart motorway, 'and all other stretches that are currently being worked on will not be opened until we have the outcome of the stocktake'.

After two years of work the 6.5 mile stretch of smart motorway on the M20, between West Malling and Aylesford, was due to be completed in March

However, the existing smart motorway network will remain open. Around 200 miles of the strategic road network have been converted to smart motorway in one form or another including stretches of the M1, M4, M6 and M62.

The transport secretary did make it clear he wants to put an end to all-lane-running dynamic motorways where the hard shoulder can be converted to a live traffic lane and switched back again depending on capacity need.

'There is far too much complication' in that system Mr Shapps said.

The government and Highways England have come under pressure to end the smart motorway programme after figures revealed 38 people have been killed on them in the past five years and one section on the M25 saw a 20-fold increase in near misses. 

Highways England has also been criticised for not having stopped vehicle detection (SVD) technology in place across all sections of smart motorway in the country.

Highways England chief executive Jim O'Sullivan admitted to the transport select committee last year the lack of SVD had almost certainly cost lives.

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