Sir Mike Penning – Update from Parliament

I have no doubt that when you read this the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic will be headline news, but as I am writing this well in advance of publication, it would be foolish for me to comment on it. Suffice to say that I recommend you visit the GOV.UK website or website for the latest information.

At time of writing we have just had the Budget. I was delighted to see not only contingency funding for tackling the Coronavirus outbreak, but also that the new Chancellor made many pledges that will deliver on promises in our election manifesto.

Of particular interest to me, however, was the statement by Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps on smart motorways.

I was the Minister at the Department for Transport in 2010 when the Government concluded the M42 trial of all-lane running. The M42 trial had emergency lay-bys at 600m intervals and the trial worked well. We were also promised radar detection to identify stopped vehicles, so I approved the rollout which was a relatively easy way to add much needed capacity to our motorway network.

However, I, the other Ministers, and indeed the police were misled.

When the Highways Agency rolled out the programme they acted without authority and lengthened the gap to in some cases to well over a mile and a half. The radar has only been installed in two very small sections.

I have been very upset about the tragic accidents that have happened and have set up an All-Party Parliamentary Group for Roadside Recovery to look into this. Roadside recovery mechanics have sadly been highly represented in the number of deaths and injured.

We commissioned a report and I contacted Panorama to make a programme about it which was broadcast earlier this year.

The result was a “stock take” of motorway safety and an 18 point plan to improve the safety of all-lane running. I broadly welcome the proposals which include reducing the distance between emergency lay-bys, adding new ones where needed and reducing the accident attendance time.

I will be following this closely and I will be demanding action. For all-lane running to be safe, we need more lay-bys, radar detection and quicker response to broken down vehicles.

The Government must also commit to not opening any new smart motorways which do not have these safety measures outlined in place.

I will keep on the case.

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