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Lords Committee raises safety concerns over proposed M56 (Junctions 6 to 7) Smart motorway

24 June 2022

The House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee’s 5th Report of Session 2022-23 has expressed concern over the changes to smart motorways proposed by the M56 Motorway (Junctions 6 to 7) (Variable Speed Limits) Regulations 2022 (SI 2022/607).

These Regulations enable the operation of variable mandatory speed limits between junctions 6 and 7, as part of the M56 junctions 6 to 8 “all lane running scheme” (ALR scheme) near Manchester Airport. As part of this road scheme, due to be opened to traffic in September 2022, the existing hard shoulder is being permanently converted to a running lane and Emergency Areas provided instead.

The Committee has highlighted their concerns because of the Department for Transport’s (DfT) inadequate explanation of the legislation. DfT made no mention of the extensive concerns raised by the House of Commons Transport Committee on the general safety of smart motorways despite the Rt Hon. Grant Shapps MP agreeing to all the Transport Committee’s safety recommendations in January 2022, and despite him also committing to pause the rollout of future ALR smart motorway schemes until a full five years’ worth of safety data was available. In light of this the Lords’ Committee find the Explanatory Memorandum relating to the proposed Regulations particularly inexplicable.

DfT’s subsequent explanation that these Regulations fall outside of the Government’s commitment as the changes were already 50% complete in January 2022 did little to allay the Committee’s concerns.

In addition, the Committee discovered that this M56 scheme will open with four designated Emergency Areas with an average spacing of 2.5 km, when the recommended separation is a maximum of 1.5km decreasing to one every 1 km where possible.

The Committee has written to the Minister at the Department for Transport about its concerns and will publish the answer in a subsequent Report.

Viscount Hanworth, Member of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee said;

Extensive concerns about the safety of smart motorways have been raised recently by the House of Commons Transport Committee. A key piece of legislation for the operation of this All Lane Running scheme, these Regulations, do not address those concerns and our Report prompts the House to ask how these safety issues have been addressed.

“We are particularly concerned that the effect of these Regulations will be to bring the Junction 6 to 7 scheme into operation with emergency refuge areas at a much greater distance apart than is currently considered optimal and have written to the Minister for an explanation of why the scheme is considered safe when it pre-empts the collection of the safety data to which the Transport Secretary has committed.

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