Smart motorway upgrade in Hertfordshire still scheduled despite continued calls to scrap plans

PUBLISHED: 10:02 15 February 2020 | UPDATED: 14:50 17 February 2020

Looking South down the A1(M) motorway between junction six and seven. Picture: DANNY LOO

Looking South down the A1(M) motorway between junction six and seven. Picture: DANNY LOO

©2018 Archant

Highways England has confirmed that construction work to turn parts of the A1(M) in Hertfordshire into a smart motorway remains scheduled for March, despite continued calls for plans to be put on hold.

Welwyn Hatfield Conservative candidate Grant Shapps. Picture: Supplied by Grant Shapps' office,Welwyn Hatfield Conservative candidate Grant Shapps. Picture: Supplied by Grant Shapps' office,

Work would see the A1(M) between Junction 6 for Welwyn and Junction 8 for Stevenage become a smart motorway - meaning the hard shoulder would be used as an extra lane at certain times, as a way to ease traffic flow.

However, amid safety concerns - and in the aftermath of a damning BBC Panorama programme - transport secretary and Welwyn Hatfield MP Grant Shapps called for all plans to be put on hold until a government review is complete.

He said following the programme last month: "We cannot build more smart motorways unless we know they are at least as safe, if not safer, than existing motorways."

He also confirmed results of the stock take on smart motorways will be out before the work is due to start.

Looking North down the A1(M) motorway between junction six and seven. Picture: DANNY LOOLooking North down the A1(M) motorway between junction six and seven. Picture: DANNY LOO

Welwyn Hatfield Lib Dem leader Cllr Malcolm Cowan has questioned the credibility of Mr Shapps' stock take and announcement to stop construction work, given that construction work is still scheduled.

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Having attended an information event in Welwyn Garden City about the scheduled work, he said: "This makes a mockery of Grant Shapps' announcement last week of a moratorium on any new 'smart' motorways until the outcome of a review.

"Aside from our concerns about the safety of 'all lane running' with no hard shoulder, I would also like to see consideration given to a limited widening from Junction 6 northwards, including a new hard shoulder, which would be cheaper and safer, and in my view would significantly reduce the current bottleneck."

Following Mr Shapps' reappointment as Secretary of State for Transport in the government reshuffle on Thursday, Stevenage Borough Council leader Sharon Taylor tweeted him asking: "Can you please now cancel the dangerous 'smart motorway' project on the A1(M) between our constituency and yours?"

Last month there were calls to scrap all smart motorways, citing that they are too dangerous - with one concern being that emergency refuge areas are not frequent enough.

Talking to BBC Panorama at the time Mr Shapps said: "I think they [emergency refuge areas] are almost certainly in some cases too far apart.

"I think two-and-a-half miles is much too far apart, people need to be passing these every 60 seconds at a normal speed."

A spokesman for Highways England said: "The Department for Transport is considering a range of evidence during their stocktake. We expect the results to be published shortly and to provide the most up to date assessment of the safety of smart motorways. We are committed to implementing any new recommendations as part of our ongoing work to make our roads even safer."

The death toll on stretches of smart motorways has reached 38 in the last five years.

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