Julian Knight's Westminster Diary: 01/08/17

Solihull Observer

I don’t think you’ll find many West Midlands motorists to disagree when I say that the M6 Toll needs urgent reform.

Having originally been sold to the region as the ‘Birmingham Relief Road’, years of escalating charges have priced ordinary drivers and most commercial traffic away, putting increased pressure on the M6.

As we saw last February, civil servants don’t want to pay the £300,000 fee for activating ‘Operation Freeway’, the system for opening the toll to normal traffic during emergencies. The resulting traffic chaos cost the West Midlands economy £40 million.

But the costs of an overstretched M6 aren’t just financial – it also causes delays for emergency services, commuters, and families, and more exhaust fumes being pumped into our atmosphere.

Last week I met the management of the M6 Toll to urge them to do more to encourage lorries and HGVs to use their motorway.

At present only a small share of freight traffic uses the toll road, as businesses don’t want the extra costs. But this leaves slow, wide vehicles clogging up the M6, causing delays and more pollution.

Midlands Expressway manage one of the UK’s only toll roads. It’s up to them to prove that this model can work for the whole community – otherwise it may soon be the end of the road for this “rich person’s motorway”.

As the chairman of the cross-party campaign for Fairer Fuel I’m speaking up for ordinary motorists who may face punitive new taxes in the Government’s latest bid to cut car pollution. Surely fixing our dysfunctional road network is a more sensible place to start?

Andy Street, the new Conservative mayor of the West Midlands, shares my concerns about the M6 Toll and we’re pushing hard for reform.

Since first being returned as MP for Solihull I’ve fought for a devolution deal which protects the autonomy of our distinct community whilst bringing down powers from Westminster which can be better used at the regional level.

I want to see an improved Operation Freeway, with the final decision resting not with unaccountable civil servants but with our elected mayor, who will be more sensitive to the needs of our region’s motorists and businesses.