MPs want government to put brakes on smart motorway plans for M1 between Northampton and Milton Keynes until 2025

Committee says government needs five years data to prove it is safe to take away motorway hard shoulders

By Kevin Nicholls
Tuesday, 2nd November 2021, 9:09 am
Updated Tuesday, 2nd November 2021, 9:12 am

MPs say the M1 from Northampton to Milton Keynes should not be turned into a smart motorway until at least 2025.

Work on a £373 million project to convert 23.6 miles of road into a four-lane highway is due for completion late next year or in early 2023.

Critics say similar schemes replacing hard shoulders with safety refuges up to a mile apart has contributed to deaths on the roads.

A report by the Commons' Transport Select Committee published on Tuesday (November 2) says there is not enough safety and economic data to justify continuing with the plans.

It said: "The government and National Highways should pause the rollout of new all-lane running schemes until five years of safety and economic data is available for every all-lane running scheme introduced before 2020 and the implementation of the safety improvements in the government's action plan has been independently evaluated."

Today's report also described the government's decision in March 2020 that all future smart motorways would be all-lane-running versions as 'premature' and urged ministers to 'consider alternative options for enhancing capacity' on motorways.

The committee called on the government to install controlled smart motorways, instead of all-lane running, with a permanent hard shoulder and technology to regulate traffic. These have the 'lowest casualty rates' of all roads across motorways and major A roads in England.

MPs want the scheme to replace hard shoulders with safety refuges on the M1 kept on ice until at least 2025.

A final decision will be made by the Department of Transport.

There are about 375 miles of smart motorway in England, including 235 miles without a hard shoulder. Stretches from Hemel Hempstead to just south of Milton Keynes, and between junction 16 and 19 north of Northampton are already open.

An additional 300 miles are scheduled to be opened by 2025 — including between junction 13 and junction 16.

Critics of smart motorways have called for hard shoulders to be permanently reinstalled after a number of incidents in which broken down vehicles were hit from behind. But the Commons committee said it was was 'not convinced' such a policy would boost safety.

Work on the £373m project is due for completion late next year or early 2023.

It concluded: "The evidence suggests that doing so could put more drivers and passengers at risk of death and serious injury."

Early smart motorways had safety refuges every 600 yards. But 38 are planned for the Northampton-Milton Keynes stretch of the M1 – one approximately every 1,500 yards.

A BBC Panorama investigation last year revealed 38 people died on Britain’s 200 miles of smart motorways in the previous five years, compared to 90 a year over the whole 2,300-mile network.

Coroners have expressed concerns following deaths on stretches of the M1 already converted into smart motorways.

Northamptonshire Chief Constable Nick Adderley has also admitted he is 'not a fan' of the smart motorways.