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PCC tells agencies ‘get your act together’ to prevent repeat of M6 closure chaos

PCC tells agencies ‘get your act together’ to prevent repeat of M6 closure chaos

🕔23.Mar 2016

West Midlands Police Commissioner David Jamieson has told public agencies they must co-operate and work together more closely to make sure motorways are re-opened as quickly as possible following serious traffic accidents.

Mr Jamieson issued 11 recommendations to the police, Highways England and local councils following a public hearing into the aftermath of a fatal crash on the M6 in Birmingham which resulted in the motorway being closed for 24 hours.

The incident on February 4 saw motorists stranded and raised questions about the time taken to resurface and reopen the M6 between junctions 5 and 6.

The PCC’s inquiry was told that the scene of the crash was sealed off as a “crime scene” by the police for seven hours and Highways England representatives were denied access.

Highways England failed to tell local councils about the motorway closure or give advice on alternative routes for motorists. Neither the police nor Highways England decided to categorise the closure as a ‘major incident’ even though hundreds of people were trapped in cars for hours.

It emerged that Highways England does not have a response plan to deal with incidents arising in the ‘Birmingham Box’, the M6, M42 and M5 circling the city.

Mr Jamieson criticised Highways England, accusing the organisation of secrecy.

A spokesperson for Mr Jamieson said:

The commissioner is concerned that Highways England should be seen to adopt a culture of openness and transparency. Although he welcomed Highways England’s attendance at the hearing and the frank evidence provided by their staff, he has concerns about their prior willingness to be open and answerable in the public domain about their shortcomings.

The default position appears to be to withhold information rather than freely making it available for public scrutiny. It may be an appropriate time for Highways England to revisit the Nolan principles of Openness and Accountability.

Commenting on the public hearing, Mr Jamieson said:

“Delays like we saw on February 4th cost the economy in the West Midlands millions of pounds with people and goods not able to get to where are needed.

“Ultimately those delays cost money, jobs and inconvenienced people. They also potentially impact on public safety. That is why I called a public hearing and for the first time made Highways England locally answer in public, along with the police and councils.

I am convinced that co-ordination must improve across the board, so that Highways England are working as closely as possible with local authorities and the police. Also, out of hours provision needs to be reviewed to reflect the 24 hour requirements of the economy and there needs to be clarity on who is in charge of managing incidents at all times.

A specific plan needs to be put in place for the ‘Birmingham box’ of motorways as incidents there have such a large impact on both the regional and national economy.

As a result of the hearing I believe that a grading system for crashes and delays needs to be brought in so that agencies do not just wait for a major incident to be declared, but can respond proportionately without reaching that threshold.

From evidence we received there were welfare implications for the thousands of people who were stuck on the motorway. These implications could have been even more serious if the weather was colder. I have therefore called on all agencies to develop a plan to provide rapid assistance to vulnerable people when these delays occur.

The PCC is meeting Transport Minister Andrew Jones to discuss future arrangements for serious road crashes and will urge the Government to make it easier to open the M6 Toll free of charge to relieve traffic congestion when motorways are closed.

The police commissioner’s recommendations are:

  • West Midlands Police to review protocols for informing Highways England of potential large diesel and petrol spillages
  • West Midlands Police the Central Motorway Police Group (CMPG) and Highways England to review Senior Investigating Officer protocols for Highways England to access incident sites to allow assessment of the condition of the carriageway and likely repairs, before the end of the investigative phase
  • West Midlands Police / CMPG, Highways England and local authorities to agree a programme of exercises to plan for unplanned motorway closures, with emphasis on understanding the consequences of four-lane running and the likely scale of roadworks associated with HS2 construction, and with the specific intention of developing a major incident response plan for the “Birmingham Box”
  • West Midlands Police / CMPG, Highways England and local authorities to review their protocols for declaring a “major incident”
  • West Midlands Police / CMPG, Highways England and local authorities to consider the creation of a graded incident scale that allows for mobilisation of responses by the respective agencies that are proportionate to the scale of an incident on the motorway
  • Highways England and local authorities to review their protocols for activating local authority out-of-hours traffic management capabilities in the aftermath of significant incidents
  • Highways England to develop and implement collaboration agreements with local authorities for the shared response to significant incidents on the motorway network
  • Highways England, West Midlands Combined Authority and the Department for Transport to review how the M6 Toll might be more effectively integrated into the response to significant incidents on the motorway network
  • Highways England to review its operational command arrangements for significant incidents to ensure there is clarity on roles, responsibilities and delegated authorities
  • All agencies should immediately examine their response to risks to the welfare of those trapped in vehicles and develop a plan to provide rapid assistance to vulnerable people
  • West Midlands Combined Authority to convene within six months a follow up event for West Midlands Police / CMPG, Highways England and local authorities to consider progress against these recommendations

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