Campaigners and a senior MP have criticised the transport secretary’s decision to allow Highways England to convert 32 miles of the M4 to all lane running.
Chris Grayling has backed a recommendation from the Planning Inspectorate to grant development consent for a section of the motorway between Junction 3 (Hayes) and Junction 12 (Theale) to be upgraded to a ‘smart motorway’, with the hard shoulder transformed into a permanent additional running lane and traffic flow moderated by the use of variable speed limits.
The M4 motorway near the M25
In his decision letter, Mr Grayling referred to ‘the critical need to improve the existing national road network’ as set out in the National Policy Statement for National Networks (NPSNN).
Mr Grayling said proposals for air quality monitoring and management met the requirement in the NPSNN for ‘measures to avoid, reduce or compensate for adverse health impacts’. He said ‘the evidence of the first 12 months’ performance of all lane running on the M25’ indicated that the scheme was safe.
However, the decision was criticised by Louise Ellman, the chair of the Commons Transport Committee, which in June said the Department for Transport had been ‘disingenuous’ in the way it presented the risks of of all lane running, which it distinguished from the type of ‘smart motorway’ installed on the M42, and recommended an immediate halt to its rollout.
Ms Ellman told the Press Association: ‘I think lives could be put at risk. This is a hasty decision led by cost-cutting without proper consideration for safety.’
‘It ignores the need for a three-year trial period for safety considerations. The Transport Committee produced a highly critical report on this.’
Jenny Bates of Friends of the Earth called the decision ‘awful news for local people and the environment’.
She said: ‘Widening the M4 will lead to more traffic, more climate changing emissions and increase air pollution levels that already break legal health limits.
‘The requirement to at least monitor the toxic gas Nitrogen Dioxide is welcome, but allowing traffic levels to increase when they need to be cut to help meet EU legal limits for deadly air pollution is an outrage.'
Campaign for Better Transport also criticised the plans. Bridget Fox, sustainable transport campaigner, said: ‘This is just expanding motorways on the cheap.’
The proposed development includes the replacement of overbridge structures, the extension of underbridge structures, changes to junctions and slip roads, the provision of new gantries and signs, and other infrastructure such as emergency refuge areas.