Burnley businessman Nick Emmott says people will die on the M65 if they hit standing water caused by poor maintenance.
And he says the Highways Agency’s chosen contractor, Balfour Beatty Mott McDonald, could find itself being prosecuted under Health and Safety law for not acting on an issue it knows full well about.
Mr Emmott, head of CGS Glazing Ltd, wrote to Lancashire County Council with his concerns about debris and grass blocking drains on the motorway, and urged those responsible to take swift action. He is still waiting to see the action promised in March to help keep the M65 safe.
The County passed his letter to Balfour Beatty because it maintains the M65 for the Highways Agency from Burnley to Bamber Bridge. The contract is part of a £300m. deal for managing and maintaining the motorway and trunk road network taking in Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Merseyside and South Lancashire.
The five-year contract ends in November, 2017. No breakdown is available to say how much it is paid for work on the M65, and, according to the Highways Agency, Balfour Beatty is no longer obliged to cut the grass as a matter of course.
“They thanked me for my interest and promised someone would be along to have a look and sort it out,” said Mr Emmott.
“I travel on that road every day, and believe me, there is no maintenance going on there. The gullies are blocked with grass, and that doesn’t grow overnight.
“Whenever it rains there is always standing water, and it is a real danger to drivers, particularly those who are younger or inexperienced.
“My daughter is a student nurse and has to be on that road every day. It is a real worry.”
Mr Emmott believes cost-cutting is at the root of the poor maintenance regime and the refusal to light the carriageway at night.
As spokesman for the Highways Agency said: “In terms of cutting grass our contractors are no longer obliged to do so routinely and will now only monitor growth and cut grass to ensure the network remains safe for road users.”
The arrival of dark nights and bad weather prompted Mr Emmott to again voice his concerns.
“In periods of heavy rain there is standing water in three lanes on the M65 westbound between junctions 7 and 8. Someone was supposed to inspect them, so I asked why no action was taken to this day?
“They thanked me again, and said they did attend in March. Then they went on to say ‘recent windy weather has brought down a considerable amount of leaves and vegetation into gullies across the network, which we are programming for cleaning.’ They promised to clear the gullies but it is not the leaves that are the problem, it’s the grass that has taken root.
“No action was taken when I raised my initial concerns. The gullies along the central reservation have not been touched grass does not grow over night.
“My colleague and I have monitored it since March, and in fact you could make hay with the length of the grass.”
Balfour Beatty passes all queries about the M65 to the Highways Agency. A spokesman for the Highways Agency said: “Our priority is to provide safe and reliable journeys for all users of the strategic roads network - including the M65 - and a rigorous inspection regime is in place.
“As well as this we are investing more than £39m. in repairing, maintaining and improving motorways and major A roads in Lancashire over the next few years.
“Our contractors routinely assess the network for litter and drainage issues.
“In terms of littering we ensure we meet our obligations under the 1990 Environmental Protection Act - although it is often the case that accumulations can occur quite quickly even after a ‘blitz’ by our contractors due to inconsiderate behaviour by a minority of road users which adds to our costs, puts road workers at risk and inconveniences other drivers.
“Our contractors also have an inspection and maintenance regime in place for drainage but there are occasions when a deluge accompanied by high winds can lead to sudden blockages and slow the clearance of water from slip roads and carriageways.
“Both our traffic officers and contractor’s maintenance response teams will respond to incidents to manager or clear them as quickly as possible but obviously drivers have a role to play in taking extra care in severe weather.”