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M20 Smart Motorway will not open until after government completes safety review

A £92million stretch of motorway will not open to the public until after a government safety review, the transport secretary has announced.

MP Grant Shapps told Chatham and Aylesford MP Tracey Crouch the M20 Smart Motorway will not open until a government review is complete.

Work progressing on the M20 smart motorway scheme, near Larkfield, Aylesford. Picture: Andy Jones
Work progressing on the M20 smart motorway scheme, near Larkfield, Aylesford. Picture: Andy Jones

A report by the all-party parliamentary group for roadside rescue and recovery earlier this week claimed Smart Motorways are a "death trap".

Thirty eight people have died on the routes in the past five years.

Kent was set to get its first Smart Motorway in March, on a 6.5mile stretch of the M20 between Junction 3 for the M26/Borough Green and Junction 5 for Aylesford.

Motorists have endured 50mph speed limits since roadworks began two years ago.

Today, Tracey Crouch raised concerns that the scheme could open without any stopped vehicle detection or other vital safety measures.

Tracey Crouch
Tracey Crouch

Speaking in Parliament she said: "I appreciate that it will be frustrating for those using it to continue to have cones and low speed limits, but does he agree that, given the concerns about safety on all-lane-running motorways, it should not open until all those measures have been put in place?"

Mr Shapps replied: "I am grateful to my honourable friend, who has campaigned on this issue for a long time.

"That stretch of the M20, and all other stretches that are currently being worked on, will not be opened until we have the outcome of the stocktake."

Answering a previous question, Mr Shapps said the government was "nearly there" in terms of completing its review, which was announced in October.

Mrs Crouch described the transport secretary's response to her question as "ambiguous".

Grant Shapps
Grant Shapps

She added: "I think we need to be realistic in that the M20 project has cost £92m and is highly unlikely to be scrapped altogether but in my view it should not become a live all-lane running motorway until there are proper radar systems in place that detect broken down vehicles in live lanes which then close that lane with immediate effect and that the refuge areas are closer than the 1900m currently built.

"I know that any pause in removing the cones and speed limits could cause frustration to those who live right by the motorway and are hugely disrupted by day and night works and the drivers who use the stretch every day but if it means they get to work safely, avoiding potential tragedy, I am sure most will understand.

"I am not giving up the fight on this. If we are going to have an All Lane Running Motorway through my constituency, it damn well needs to be as safe as a normal stretch of motorway.

When Mr Shapps announced his review in October 2019, he said he wanted to ensure all motorways in the country are "as safe as they possibly can be".

Philip Gomm, of motoring research charity the RAC Foundation, said: "On safety grounds this pause is unarguable.

"But it does mean that for users of the M20 - who have suffered delays not just because of this scheme but also the Brexit-related speed restrictions and lane closures - the inconvenience is set to go on.

"No-one underestimates the complexity of these schemes but it does underline the need to get the design right first time."

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