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Roads: M6

Volume 684: debated on Thursday 20 July 2006

My honourable friend the Minister of State for Transport (Stephen Ladyman) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

On the 19 July last year, I announced that I had asked the Highways Agency to carry out a detailed review to allow an informed decision to be taken on the case for building a new tolled Expressway to run parallel with the M6 between Birmingham and Manchester as an alternative to widening the existing M6 by one lane in each direction. This followed a consultation exercise undertaken in 2004 on the broad concept of an Expressway.

The Government have accepted the need for more road capacity in this corridor, as shown by the Midlands to Manchester multi-modal study (Midman), which reported in July 2002. The issue was how best that capacity could be provided. Given the high level of investment involved whatever option would be taken forward, it was clearly important that we properly considered the potential for the extra benefits that might be achievable from an Expressway.

The 2004 consultation document, M6: giving motorists a choice, suggested that the Expressway might be delivered more quickly than the widening, by avoiding the need to build new structures such as bridges, and avoid substantial disruption to traffic during construction. The evidence from the detailed development work undertaken by the Highways Agency has not borne this out.

The Highways Agency's modelling suggests that an Expressway would have a significant impact on both the levels and the mix of traffic using the Expressway and the M6. In particular, it is likely that the proportion of heavy freight traffic on the M6—which is already relatively high—would increase further, requiring additional infrastructure works at junctions to provide safely for traffic joining and leaving the road. This, together with providing for the appropriate range of access options at each junction between the Expressway and the existing M6, would require the demolition of many existing structures and reconstruction of 20 per cent of the existing carriageway. The Expressway would also have a much larger land take, requiring some 50 per cent more land than the widening. The Expressway and associated works would cause more disruption to existing traffic and would cost some 15 per cent more than widening.

Although on-line widening would necessarily involve some disruption to M6 traffic during construction, the phasing of works could mean additional capacity being provided sooner than an entirely new road, with efforts focused on the most heavily trafficked sections first.

The Highways Agency has held a series of seminars and meetings with stakeholders, to set out indicative plans for both options, and take feedback. On the basis of these more clearly defined propositions, few stakeholders regarded the Expressway as an attractive alternative to widening.

In the light of the further development work and stakeholder consultation, we have therefore decided not to pursue the Expressway alternative any further.

The Highways Agency has continued to progress the widening option and will now focus solely on that. This work will include examining the demand management measures needed to ensure that the benefits of additional capacity are locked-in.

A more detailed report on the options review has been placed in the Library of the House.