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05/09/2016

M4 Smart Motorway Scheme approved

Words: Laura Edgar

The Department for Transport (DfT) has granted development consent to the M4 junctions 4 to 12 Smart Motorway Scheme.

The scheme aims to enable “proactive management” of the M4 carriageway, including slip roads and motorway to motorway intersections between junctions 3 (Hayes) and 12 (Theale), said the government.

The application was submitted to the Planning Inspectorate for consideration in March 2015 and accepted for examination in April 2015. A recommendation was made to the transport secretary on 3 June 2016, following a six-month examination during which the public, statutory consultees and interested parties were able to give evidence.

Sarah Richards, chief executive of the Planning Inspectorate, said the decision to approve the nationally significant infrastructure project supports the recommendations made by the planning inspectorate.

She added that it is the 11th application for a significant highway project to be examined.

The development consent order will see the alteration of 32 miles of the M4, with the hard shoulder being transformed into a permanent additional running lane while traffic flow will be moderated by the use of variable speed limits. Overbridge structures will be replaced, underbridge structures extended and changes will be made to junctions and slip roads. Emergency refuge areas will be installed as well.

The decision letter states that transport secretary Chris Grayling is satisfied that the scheme would “increase capacity, improve traffic flow and reduce journey times, thereby supporting economic development”.

He also said that the benefits of the scheme – that it would help to deliver a “well-functioning” strategic road network and would support economic activity – outweigh the identified harmful effect during construction.

Grayling said any harm to the green belt is “not significant in its extent” and that any other harm is outweighed by the benefits. Like the Planning Inspectorate panel, he concluded that “very special circumstance exist such that development consent may be granted”.

Jenny Bates, air pollution campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said the approval is “awful news” for local people and the environment.

“Widening the M4 will lead to more traffic, more climate-changing emissions and increase air pollution levels that already break legal health limits.

“The requirement to at least monitor the toxic gas nitrogen dioxide is welcome, but allowing traffic levels to increase when they need to be cut to help meet EU legal limits for deadly air pollution is an outrage.”

Bates said the widening of the motorway is not the solution to congested roads because more traffic makes it worse.

“It’s time to send UK transport in a new direction to protect our planet and our health.”

The decision letter can be found here.

Image credit | Department for Transport

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