AMBITIOUS plans for a £700m widening of the M4 between Theale and London have moved a step closer after the Highways Agency applied for an order which would allow it to start construction.
Under Highways Agency proposals, around 32 miles of the road between junction 3 at Hayes and junction 12 at Theale will be widened to four lanes in each direction by converting the hard shoulder to a running lane and installing new technology along the road to help keep traffic flowing.
Eleven overbridges would also be replaced with larger span structures and six underbridges widened to accommodate the four lanes as part of the plan to turn it into a ‘smart motorway’.
Speed limits will be displayed to drivers on electronic road signs, while the scheme would also include emergency refuge areas with telephones.
The Highways Agency says it would provide “real benefits to drivers and the economy”, but both the RAC and the AA fear that the lack of a hard shoulder could leave motorists in a vulnerable position in the event of a breakdown.
On Monday, the Highways Agency applied to the Planning Inspectorate for a Development Consent Order (DCO) which, if approved, will authorise the construction and development of the project.
The DCO combines a grant of planning permission with a range of other separate consents, such as listed building consent and can include rights to compulsorily purchase land.
It contains a Schedule of Requirements – the conditions which govern how the project is to be delivered – and also consider practical matters, including landscaping and drainage.
The project has been described as a “massive job” by the Highways Agency.
In a previous report, the agency said the ‘smart motorway’ was a cheaper alternative to traditional road-widening and also said there would be less impact on the environment during construction.
However, it admits there would be risks to air quality and noise, as well as making a visual impact.
The Planning Inspectorate now has 28 days to consider the Highways Agency’s application and decide whether or not to accept it.
The supporting documents, including the public consultation report, will be published on the Inspectorate’s website at https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/planning-inspectorate
If the application is accepted, those wanting to follow the planning process can do so by registering as an interested party with the Inspectorate.
If approved, the work will take place between 2016 and 2021.