Key improvements to the West Midlands road network have been delayed because of “deadbeat” civil servants, a West Midlands MP and former Transport Minister claimed.
Black Country MP John Spellar (Lab Warley) claimed “useless officials” in the Department for Transport and Highways Agency were responsible for the failure to expand an innovative scheme allowing drivers to use the hard shoulder on motorways.
The MP, who was a Transport Minister from 2001 to 2003, said he was frustrated decisions taken more than five years ago had still not been put into effect.
And he told Ruth Kelly, the Transport Secretary, that she should “get a grip” on her staff.
Mr Spellar was calling for an expansion of the Active Traffic Management scheme, which has been operating on the M42 near Birmingham since 2005.
This allows motorists to use the hard shoulder during busy periods, with electronic signs indicating when lanes are open and when they are closed.
The Government has announced that the system is to be expanded into parts of the M6 in the West Midlands - but this is not due to begin until 2011, six years after the pilot scheme began. He made his feeling clear in blunt terms in the House of Commons, asking Ms Kelly: “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?”
The Transport Secretary replied: “I commend him 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.”
Speaking afterwards, Mr Spellar said the delays were “symptomatic” of the Department of Transport’s approach.
As a Minister he also pushed through new rules about roadworks, giving councils greater powers to ensure utilities and construction companies minimised the time roads were out of use.
However, these had still not been put into effect, he said.