Shapps pleads ignorance on refuge areas

Grant Shapps has told MPs that he does not know whether National Highways includes slip roads within its definition of emergency refuge areas (EAs) for the purpose of providing a minimum spacing on smart motorways.

It follows the disclosure by Highways that the operator of the strategic road network considers a new standard of maximum spacing of a mile between EAs to refer to ‘places to stop in an emergency [which] could be an EA, slip road [or] service station’.

The Department of Transport (DfT), which has ostensibly agreed to this standard, has also said that it considers motorway service areas and new or existing hard shoulder to count towards it.

When Mr Shapps appeared before the Transport Select Committee on Wednesday, committee chair Huw Merriman said: ‘With regard to the definition of emergency refuge areas and the spacing, the commitment was there would be a maximum of one mile for emergency refuge areas, but it appears that National Highways may include within the definition of emergency refuge areas, not just what we consider, but also slip roads and service stations.'

He asked the transport secretary: 'Has the Department landed on a definition of this?

Mr Shapps replied that he agreed that a motorway service area was ‘a safer area to be in’, and that the target was a spacing of three-quarters of a mile.

Mr Merriman continued: ‘We worked on the basis that that meant emergency refuge areas would be no greater than a mile, in spacing, but it then appears – and we did a written question, we didn’t seem to get to the bottom of this – that within that if there’s a slip road, that counts as an emergency refuge.’

Mr Shapps replied: ‘That’s interesting. I don’t have specifics on that and I’ll have to come back.’ The DfT’s permanent secretary, Bernadette Kelly, indicated that she did not know the answer either.

Mr Merriman said: ‘Perhaps we’ll furnish you with the article. There was an article in back in February from Highways magazine.’

During the same session, Mr Shapps told MPs that National Highways will shortly publish a new report on smart motorways, two years on from his 2020 stocktake on the subject.

He said this would show that ‘a further 111 miles of radar stopped vehicle detection has gone in in the last year’.

He added: ‘There will be new data in there as well about the safety record of the motorways, which I think show that they remain amongst the safest in the country, notwithstanding the concerns that we all have.’

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