Smart Motorways 'are as safe as conventional ones' says Northampton MP in first week as Minister of Transport

Northampton MP Michael Ellis has stood by the Smart Motorway scheme in his first week as Minister for Transport.
Northampton MP Michael Ellis has stood by the Smart Motorway scheme in his first week as Minister for Transport.

A Northampton MP has stood by the ongoing and controversial Smart Motorway scheme in his first week as the Government's top official for highways.

MP for Northampton North Michael Ellis was appointed as Minister of State for Transport last week, to replace Jesse Norman.

Highways England construction workers making preparations for the stretch of M1 smart motorway in February 2015.

Highways England construction workers making preparations for the stretch of M1 smart motorway in February 2015.

In April, the Chronicle and Echo asked Mr Ellis to raise the issue of the Smart Motorways scheme in Parliament in the face of growing concerns for the project.

The £373million plan aims to design a stretch of the M1 between Junctions 13 and 16 and convert the hard shoulder into an extra fourth lane.

But campaigners have branded the plan "unsafe". Several MPs have criticised it while the Northampton-based Road Rescue Recovery Association chair called a death caused by the Smart Motorway "inevitable".

At the time, Mr Ellis promised to speak to the Department of Transport about the issue - but now that he is in charge of it, the Chron asked him what he would do to address people's concerns.

The smart motorway is complete around junction 16 and is under construction between junction 14 and 15.

The smart motorway is complete around junction 16 and is under construction between junction 14 and 15.

Mr Ellis said: "My main concern is to act on evidence and the evidence I have seen shows Smart Motorways are just as safe as conventional motorways.

"My view is they are good for drivers and they add an extra lane for more space, and use technology to make journeys more reliable."

In April, the Chron submitted its own evidence to Mr Ellis that the number of serious accidents between J14 and J15 in the first three months of 2019 had increased seven-fold compared to the previous year - up from two to 15.

Mr Ellis said: "I'm going to continue to ask for a review into this and I will specifically ask about the M1.

Michael Ellis was appointed Minister of State for Transport last week.

Michael Ellis was appointed Minister of State for Transport last week.

"Obviously when there are roadworks in place that's a different factor to when they are complete.

"The safety of road users is of utmost concern. The safety of the Smart Motorways scheme will be under constant review."

Mr Ellis also said he was working to place an emergency refuge area every mile along the scheme - with the idea that if a vehicle breaks down at 60mph, they would be able to coast and find a refuge area in a minute or less.

Meanwhile, the new minister said he would "look carefully" at the issue of potholes in Northamptonshire and the UK - but said it was "too early" into his role to commit extra funding to the problem.