Doubts about the future of major new road improvements surfaced this week after the Highways Agency shelved plans to introduce hard shoulder running on the M60.
The Agency has scaled back plans for hard shoulder running between junctions 8 and 15 of the M60.
Fears that extra traffic generated would cause health problems for nearby residents led to the decision.
The move came to light with the publication last week of the Agency’s consultation document for the M60 junction 8 to M62 junction 20 improvement in Greater Manchester.
It revealed that instead of hard shoulder running for junctions 15 to 12 and junctions 8 to 12 on the M60, it was now only proposing to introduce variable speed limits without additional lane capacity.
The original plans involved introducing hard shoulder running between junctions 10a and 13 at peak times; between junctions 12 and 15 anticlockwise at all times; and on the M62 between junctions 18 and 20 at peak times.
“We looked extensively at the option to provide all lane [hard shoulder] running on the M60 section between junctions 8 and 18,” says the document.
“However, our environmental assessment concluded that creating this improvement would result in an increase in traffic using the motorway which would then have a detrimental affect [sic] on air quality.”
In a statement, the Agency said: “… Like some other European countries, we need to support economic growth by improving our strategic road network while still meeting our legal obligations that ensure we achieve good air quality for everyone.
“This means we have to build flexibility into project timetables, and into the specification they are built to and operated at. For the M62/M60 we will be upgrading the motorway to a smart motorway – to tackle congestion and improve journey times for road users. However, we will not convert the hard shoulder to a traffic lane on the M60 section until we have reviewed the options for delivering increased capacity there.”
A spokesman stressed that it had not ruled out revisiting hard shoulder running in the future and said that each scheme was assessed on its own merits.
Campaigners welcomed the Agency’s decision and said that it could, and should, set a precedent for other road schemes that are faced with a similar set of environmental limits.
Law firm Client Earth environmental lawyer Alan Andrews said the Agency deserved “credit for getting this one right”.
“Air pollution in Manchester is already way above legal limits, and it’s the same story in towns and cities throughout the UK,” Andrews continued. “That’s why we’ve been fighting a three year legal battle with the government, which finally resulted in the Supreme Court ruling that the UK was breaking the law earlier this year. It seems that ruling is starting to have a real effect on the ground.”
Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) Roads to Nowhere campaign coordinator Sian Berry said: “With this decision the Highways Agency has explicitly acknowledged that laws designed to protect peoples’ health and the environment prevent them from opening the hard shoulder to extra traffic… This should be a precedent-setting decision by the Highways Agency.”
CBT said that other contentious road schemes where potential health impacts have already been identified include new lanes being added to the A14 Cambridgeshire; improvements to the A556 Knutsford bypass; and the new River Thames Silvertown Tunnel in London where there is some of the worst air quality in the UK.
The Agency told NCE that the A556 environmental assessment was ongoing but that the assesment for the A14 had not stated.
Transport for London said: “With London’s population set to grow to 10M by the early 2030s new river crossings in east London are crucial to manage demand.
“We will undertake and publish detailed traffic and environmental impact information during the statutory consultation on the Silvertown Tunnel in 2014.”