MP 'incredulous' at smart motorway rollout as M1 scheme's projected £1bn boost revised to £225m loss

A Yorkshire MP says she is “incredulous” the Government is not looking to scrap smart motorways after it was revealed a stretch of such road on the M1 intended to provide a £1bn economic boost is actually on course to cost the economy over £200m due to longer journey times.

The loss of hard shoulders on sections of smart motorways is under renewed question.

Rotherham MP Sarah Champion, who has been campaigning against smart motorways on safety grounds following several deaths on sections of smart motorway in Yorkshire, said today it was now clear the roads “don’t deliver the promised results” in terms of journey times.

The “dynamic hard shoulder” at junctions 10 to 13 on a southern stretch of the M1 designed to alleviate traffic pressure has actually increased journey times according to analysis produced for National Highways. National Highways admitted today that further work is needed to meet “value-for-money” objectives.

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‘Dynamic’ schemes are when the hard shoulder is opened for traffic at busy times but these are all being permanently converted into all-lane running motorways by March 2025 where there will be no hard shoulder at any time.

Ms Champion said: “I’m incredulous that, rather than scrapping smart motorways as they are too expensive and don’t deliver the promised results, the Government are now looking to roll out all-lane running instead.

"No sane person can argue the logic for removing the hard shoulder unless it is to get extra capacity on the cheap. With this Government throwing billions of taxpayers’ money at failed vanity projects, I’m disgusted the penny pinching is now in regards to our safety.”

The Highways England report, evaluating the success of all-lane running on a stretch of the M1 between Luton and Milton Keynes over a five-year period, found that “speeds are lower and journey times longer than initially predicted for this scheme”.

It said: “The increase in the number of road users and the speed restrictions required to run smart motorway, meant that journey times were longer after the conversion. Before the conversion, the route was operating very close to capacity and road users experienced high levels of congestion. Without the additional capacity of the fourth lane, it was unlikely that the existing three-lane motorway would have been able to support the increased number of road users.”

While the journey time benefits of the scheme had been hoped to provide a £996m boost to the economy over 60 years, the report’s new forecast based assessing the last five years was actually a £225m loss.

The report said: “In the first five years, the evaluation had not observed the level of benefit in line with the assumptions within the business case. This is because key assumptions used in the appraisal were based on limited evidence from one smart motorway pilot study.”

It added: “In this scenario, the anticipated core journey timesaving benefits were not realised, and the scheme therefore is not on track to deliver its value for money objective as defined in the original appraisal.

“In this case, the monetisation of journey time benefit is not a good measure of value for money and the qualitative evidence presented in the evaluation is considered a more robust measure. The scheme has provided increased capacity, safety improvements and maintained levels of reliability whilst supporting an increase in the number of road users.”

All-lane running 'will bring more consistency' for drivers

Elliot Shaw, National Highways Executive Director of Strategy and Planning, said turning this section of M1 into a permanent all-lane running road should provide improvements.

“The evaluation findings indicate further action is required over the scheme’s 60-year lifecycle for it to meet its appraised value for money objectives. We are addressing this. We are upgrading all dynamic hard shoulder motorways to all lane running by March 2025. Work to convert this section is due to start next year and be complete by March 2024.

"This will provide a more consistent experience for drivers and help to unlock journey saving benefits and achieve its long-term objectives.”

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