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Under the latest Government plans to limit the air pollution near homes and schools, the motorway speed limit in some areas could be cut to 60mph.
It was announced this week by the Highways Agency that it is planning to reduce the limit on a 32-mile stretch of the M1 to help prevent the pollution levels from rising further and causing damage to the health of nearby residents.
The new proposals are part of the UK’s attempt to meet with European Union targets for cleaner air and it is now up to officials to consider whether to expand the speed restriction to other areas of the country such as the M3 in Surrey and 13 other stretches of motorway.
Motoring organisations have reacted badly to the new plans, accusing the Government of trying to reduce the national speed limit “by the back door”. Britain already has some of the lowest national speed limits in Europe ahead of 24 other countries including Germany where there is no speed restriction at all on autobahns.
Robert Goodwill, the roads minister, has insisted that the 60mph limits will be “temporary”.
“Any speed restrictions to improve air quality would only ever [be] considered as part of road improvement work and would not be appropriate for the vast majority of projects started this Parliament,” he said.
“We are funding significant improvements to the road network. We need to ensure that as we invest we are alive to instances where there could be a negative effect on air quality.
Edmund King, the AA’s president, said: “Having to go to 60mph will be incredibly hard to enforce and a lot of drivers will think it is unjust.
“It is not just the emissions from cars that are causing the problems, it is the emissions from trucks, but it is the cars which will now have to slow down. Motorists are being penalised.”
Plans for the 60mph speed limit on the M1 will be between junction 28 near Matlock, Derbyshire to Junction 35A near Rotherham, South Yorkshire and the limit will be put in place between 7am to 7pm, seven days a week from 2015.
The M1 is currently one of the new ‘smart’ motorways where the hard shoulder is permanently opened to traffic to help ease congestion. But officials are concerned that the additional traffic will have “an adverse impact on air quality”.
From 2015 the agency will assess pollution levels for 13 similar schemes, including stretches of the M1, M3, M5, M6, M20, M23, M27 and M62.