Last year, I announced the extension of hard shoulder running to parts of the M6 around Birmingham. This scheme is due to be open to traffic in summer 2011. The Department and the Highways Agency are examining in detail where hard shoulder running should be implemented more widely on the motorway network. This work is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
May I partially thank the Minister for that reply? Does she agree that the active traffic management on the M42 in the west midlands has brought lower congestion, lower carbon emissions, lower pollution and fewer accidents? Therefore, does she regret that the deadbeats in the Highways Agency and her Department should have ensured that those considerable benefits for motorists were delayed? Is not she appalled that those same useless officials are still delaying the roll-out to 2011 and beyond? When will Ministers get a grip on that lot?
I commend my right hon. Friend for his great advocacy of active traffic management, even though I cannot condone the expressions he used in relation to officials in the Highways Agency and the Department. When he was a Transport Minister, he was a great champion of active traffic management. Indeed, it was under his leadership that the first trial of active traffic management and hard shoulder running was initiated around the M6 in Birmingham. I commend him for that.
It is right that we should press on and try to secure as quickly as possible the huge benefits that can be secured, not necessarily by widening our motorways, although they might have to be widened in some cases—as with the recent announcement about the M25—but by using active traffic management and hard shoulder running wherever they can be used across the entire network. That is why I have asked officials to examine in detail where it might be applicable and where we might have the earliest openings. The Birmingham box will lead through to the next phases by the summer of 2011, and I hope to make further progress quickly thereafter.
Does the Secretary of State accept that the biggest traffic management problem on our motorways is the delay in clearing up after often quite minor shunts? That causes terrific frustration, and is much worse here than anywhere on the continent. She has promised in the past to do something about it, but frankly no one thinks that anything has been done to date. Can she give me some reassurance this afternoon?
I certainly can. The right hon. Gentleman must be aware that it was the Government who introduced traffic officers to our motorway network in recent years. Traffics officers have had measurable success in restoring moving traffic after accidents have occurred—
I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman shakes his head—they are extremely popular among those who come across them on their daily motorway journeys.
It is right, too, that we should make faster progress. Collision accident equipment, for instance, which is now being routinely used by the Highways Agency, will also have an impact, as will the information that is now routinely given to drivers on overhead gantries. We give them information about what routes are best to use and where congestion is likely to occur. The point is that the motorway system ought to be seen as a system. We ought to think about how to manage it and how to manage traffic flows as best we can. That is why active traffic management, which regulates speed as well as opening up the hard shoulder, is the right way forward.
We welcome the extension of hard shoulder running following the successful M42 trial. It will be rolled out, we have been told, in conjunction with toll lanes or high occupancy vehicle lanes. In the case of the M1, the M6 and the M62, will that be introduced on new tarmac created by widening the motorways, or will it be done on the cheap, using the road freed up by the hard shoulder running?
I am glad that Opposition Front Benchers have come to see the merits of hard shoulder running and active traffic management. They have been dithering over it for quite a while, but at least, at last, they have seen sense. It is true, in many cases, that it is possible to deliver 95 per cent. of the benefits of widening at a fraction of the cost through hard shoulder running. However, when we are introducing new capacity—and only in those cases, such as when we are bringing the hard shoulder on stream and allowing motorists to use it for the first time—we might want to think about how to lock in that capacity so that it is not just taken up by more traffic. We should think about the most efficient way to use that extra capacity, perhaps by introducing a toll on the lane or car share lanes.