Sheffield MP fears ‘dangerous’ M1 hard shoulder scheme

Hard shoulder running: Motorists driving on the hard shoulder of one of the  first motorways to operate the scheme, the M42 in the West Midlands
Hard shoulder running: Motorists driving on the hard shoulder of one of the first motorways to operate the scheme, the M42 in the West Midlands

SHEFFIELD MP Meg Munn has led a parliamentary debate on plans to use the hard shoulder of the M1 in South Yorkshire after she branded the scheme ‘dangerous’.

The Labour MP for Sheffield Heeley is campaigning for the Highways Agency to make changes to its plans, which could see the motorway’s hard-shoulder used 24 hours a day in a bid to ease congestion.

Areas would be created for vehicles in difficulty to pull into, but the MP said they could be 2.5km apart.

The agency wants to introduce a ‘managed motorway’ scheme, between Junctions 32 and 35a – Thurcroft and High Green – which would involve new signs being installed to warn of dangers ahead and to set speed variable limits.

Ms Munn said the scheme could have ‘fundamental consequences for the safety of motorists’ and was first of its kind in the country.

She said: “They area treating us as guinea pigs.

“While I welcome the proposals to use the hard shoulder during rush hours, the proposals for the M1 outside Sheffield are very different to existing schemes in place elsewhere. These just make use of the hard shoulder in rush hours and alert drivers to dangers ahead using overhead signage.

“The plan for Junctions 32 to 35a is to use the hard shoulder all day, every day and use roadside signage, instead of overhead signs. This has never been tried before and experts agree it will reduce road safety not improve it.

“If a car breaks down late at night on the former hard shoulder, passengers and drivers don’t stand a chance.

“There will be nowhere for them to move to quickly and safely, especially when visibility is poor or where the motorway is unlit. I’m worried drivers might not see a danger ahead until it’s too late.

“South Yorkshire Police has said if introduced in its current state these changes will cost lives. There is no need at all for these proposals outside of rush hours, and the Government should think again.”

Ms Munn added: “This will reduce road safety, have a detrimental impact on the police’s ability to uphold the law and emergency services response times.

“We need a proper managed motorway scheme built on facts, not one built on cutting corners to be done on the cheap without regard to transport safety.”

Ken Wheat, Manager of the South Yorkshire Safer Roads Partnership, which represents the emergency services and other public bodies in the county, said at a meeting where the issue was discussed in January: “At the moment the emergency services are at one about this.

“We have been in negotiation with the Highways Agency for months and we have not yet found a solution that addresses concerns.”

A Highways Agency spokeswoman said: “Although it is predicted that there will be an increased number of vehicles that stop in a live lane during off-peak hours, this does not mean that there will be a corresponding increased number of collisions as a result. This is because managed motorways include control measures to monitor traffic 24/7 and provide protection to vehicles, such as closing lanes, setting signs to warn drivers of hazards ahead and reducing the speed limit.

“For drivers who break down at night and cannot get off the carriageway or to a refuge area, low-light CCTV will be in operation to ensure our operators can spot the vehicles and take the necessary action.

“We continue to work with South Yorkshire Safer Roads Partnership to agree on an approach to operating this section of managed motorway on the M1.”