West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson has released 11 recommendations and an initial report for public bodies involved following a hearing in public he held into motorway delays on Friday 18 March. A webcast of the hearing can be found here: http://www.westmidspcc.public-i.tv/
The Commissioner will deliver the recommendations in person to Andrew Jones MP, Minister at the Department for Transport.
West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson said:
“Delays like we saw on February 4th following a fatal crash on the M6, 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.
“As a result of the hearing 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.
“My work has raised serious questions about the M6 Toll and how we can integrate it into the response to significant incidents on the motorway network. The decision making process and threshold for initiating Operation Freeway should be reviewed too.
“These recommendations will become even more important with HS2 construction starting soon and the associated building projects that will criss-cross the motorway network. To make sure that these recommendations are delivered and further progress is made I believe that the combined authority should hold a follow up event in six months.
“I am pleased that all participants in my hearing on Friday publicly agreed to take part in a further event to ensure progress. This is an issue of huge importance and that is why I will raise these recommendations directly with Transport Minister Andrew Jones MP. I hope that the government will also support me in my efforts to keep the region’s motorways and economy moving.”
Initial Report and Recommendations:
On Thursday 4th February 2016 at 01.50, a fatal collision on the M6 between Junctions 5 and 6 led to severe road congestion in the West Midlands. The M6 was not fully reopened for nearly 24 hours and there was extreme congestion on surrounding local roads.
Thousands of motorists were stranded for long periods, factories came to a standstill as workers and components failed to arrive causing untold millions of pounds of damage to the local economy. The extent of the reputational damage to the West Midlands may never be fully known. The ‘Birmingham Box’ is an essential part of England’s motorway system and delay on it of this magnitude has national significance.
In response to widespread public concern, West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson called a hearing in public to examine the multi-agency response in the aftermath of the incident. The hearing was not asked to look into the circumstances of the incident which tragically led to the loss of a life nor to apportion blame, but to examine:
- What action could have been taken by all relevant authorities to mitigate the delays more effectively
- The level of multi-agency working and what steps need to be taken to improve this
The hearing took place on Friday 18th March 2016 at Birmingham City Council House. Representatives from Highways England, West Midlands Police, Birmingham City Council, Coventry City Council, Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council and Warwickshire County Council were in attendance to answer questions from the Commissioner, his Strategic Policing and Crime Boardand Councillor Darren Cooper, Vice Chair of the Shadow West Midlands Combined Authority.
The hearing and the documents submitted beforehand highlighted a number of serious shortcomings in the response to the incident. Some of these are listed below and others will be identified in a fuller report of the findings that will follow in the next few weeks. As Highways England conceded at the hearing, this incident should have been classed as a ‘Major Incident’ when the extent of the repair work needed became clear.
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.
A full broadcast of the hearing is available to watch here: http://www.westmidspcc.public i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/215926
Following the hearing the Commissioner will meet Roads Minister Andrew Jones MP on Tuesday 22nd March to discuss his findings. At this meeting the Commissioner will present the following recommendations from the hearing:
- West Midlands Police / CMPG are recommended to review protocols for informing Highways England of potential large diesel and petrol spillages
- West Midlands Police / CMPG and Highways England are recommended 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 are recommended to agree a programme of exercises to plan for unplanned motorway closures, with particular 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 are recommended to review their protocols for declaring a “major incident”
- West Midlands Police / CMPG, Highways England and local authorities are recommended 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 are recommended to review their protocols for activating local authority out-of-hours traffic management capabilities in the aftermath of significant incidents
- Highways England are recommended 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 are recommended to renegotiate the criteria for activation of “Operation Freeway” to:
- Lower the thresholds for activation of Operation Freeway
- Devolve decision-making to the West Midlands Metro Mayor in consultation with Highways England, West Midlands Police and local authorities
- Review how the M6 (Toll) might be more effectively integrated into the response to significant incidents on the motorway network
- Highways England is recommended 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 is recommended 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
Note: Decisions regarding the full establishment of the West Midlands Combined Authority and subsequently the Metro Mayor are awaiting completion.
 The Strategic Policing and Crime Board is a cross party non-statutory body that advises the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner. Usually the Board meets once a month in public with the Commissioner as well as performing duties on a geographic basis.