Fourteen planned smart motorways will be removed from government road-building plans due to concerns over safety and costs, Downing Street has confirmed.
The Department for Transport had said the new schemes would have cost more than £1bn, and cancelling them would allow time to track public trust in smart motorways over a longer period.
Smart motorways are a stretch of road where technology is used to regulate traffic flow and ease congestion. However, there have been growing concerns over these roads – which involve the hard shoulder being converted into a running lane – because of several fatal accidents in which stationary vehicles were hit from behind.
“We want the public to know that this government is listening to their concerns,” said transport secretary Mark Harper. “Today’s announcement means no new smart motorways will be built, recognising the lack of public confidence felt by drivers and the cost pressures due to inflation.”
The motorways affected by the ban include 11 that are already paused and three earmarked for construction.
Seven of these projects will now remain as ‘dynamic’ smart motorways where the hard shoulder can be opened as an extra lane during busy times. These are: M1 junction 10-13, M4-M5 interchange (M4 junction 19-20 and M5 junction 15-17), M6 junction 4-5, M6 junction 5-8, M6 junction 8-10a, M42 junction 3a-7 and M62 junction 25-30.
Those motorway sections that will no longer become new all-lane-running smart motorways are the M3 junction 9-14, M40/M42 interchange, M62 junction 20-25 and M25 junction 10-16.
Finally, the three motorways that were in the pipeline, but have been cancelled are the M1 North Leicestershire, M1 junctions 35A-39 Sheffield to Wakefield and M6 junctions 19- 21A Knutsford to Croft.
However, the construction of two smart motorway stretches at junctions 6 to 8 of the M56 and 21a to 26 of the M6 will continue as they are at a very advanced stage in their construction.
Currently, there are 375 miles of smart motorway, making up 10 per cent of England’s motorway network.
Despite the recently announced ban, existing smart motorways will not be scrapped. Instead, they will undergo a safety refit to add 150 emergency stopping places and improve the technology used for road traffic management.
The ban on smart motorways is part of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s campaign pledges. During the Tory leadership election, he stated that “all drivers deserve to have confidence in the roads they use to get around the country”.
Campaigner Claire Mercer, whose husband was killed on a smart motorway in South Yorkshire, welcomed the government’s move but pledged to continue pushing for the hard shoulder to return on every road.
“It’s great, it’s very good news,” she told the PA news agency. “I’m particularly happy that it’s been confirmed that the routes that are in planning, in progress, have also been cancelled. I didn’t think they’d do that.
“So it’s good news, but obviously it’s the existing ones that are killing us. And I’m not settling for more emergency refuge areas. So it’s half the battle, but we’ve still got half the battle to go.”
Jason Mercer and another man, Alexandru Murgeanu, died when they were hit by a lorry on the M1 near Sheffield after they stopped on the inside lane of the smart motorway following a minor collision.
AA president Edmund King said: “We have had enough coroners passing down their deadly and heart-breaking judgments where the lack of a hard shoulder has contributed to deaths.
“At last the government has listened and we are delighted to see the rollout of ‘smart’ motorways scrapped… We would also like to see the hard shoulder reinstated on existing stretches in due course.”
RAC road safety spokesman Simon Williams said: “Our research shows all lane-running smart motorways are deeply unpopular with drivers so we’re pleased the Government has finally arrived at the same conclusion.
“It’s now vitally important that plans are made for making the hundreds of existing miles of these types of motorway as safe as possible.”
A spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats said the scrapping of further smart motorways was “long overdue”, while Louise Haigh MP, Labour’s transport secretary added that ministers should “reinstate hard shoulders on existing smart motorways”.
The plans to build hundreds of miles of smart motorways were first announced in 2019, with the government aiming to roll out 400 miles across England by 2025. However, Last year, MPs described smart motorways are “death traps”.
In January 2022, the government paused the expansion of motorways where the hard shoulder is used as a permanent live traffic lane, to assess whether they are safe for drivers.