Fuming motorists and business chiefs fear multi-million pound, clean-air plans for a reduced motorway speed limit across north and mid Derbyshire could cripple the region by putting the skids on travel and trade.
The Government Highways Agency announced this week that it is planning to implement a 60mph speed limit between 7am and 7pm, seven days a week, from Junction 28 at Mansfield to Junction 35a at Sheffield covering Chesterfield, Staveley, Bolsover, Markham Vale, Alfreton and South Normanton.
Residents have been shocked by the plans aimed at reducing congestion, vehicle emissions and air pollutants in the 34 mile zone after environmental assessments showed a likely adverse impact if the motorway continues to operate with a 70mph speed limit.
Chris Hobson, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire Chambers of Commerce spokesman, said: “The chamber has yet to be convinced reducing the limit would achieve what is being claimed. We’ve concerns reducing the limit would negatively impact on businesses.
“It would impact on commuters and journey times not just for the 34 miles between those junctions but also through Nottingham where variable speed limits exist.
“Logistics operators, hauliers, distributors and public transport operators would have to factor in longer journey times, which would increase costs. The M1 is the main road through the East Midlands and the stretch covered by the proposed restriction is the key gateway through South Yorkshire to the East Midlands and south, East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire.”
The Society of Motoring, Manufacturers and Traders explained a continuous journey without stopping and starting creates less pressure on the engine and that can reduce emissions.
But rush-hour commuters argued vehicles will pump out the same emissions because journeys will take longer. Many argued modern cars are designed to create less pollution and a speed reduction will create hold-ups and a bottle-neck. Others fear the zone could become a speed camera trap.
The scheme is part of the Highways Agency Smart Motorway plan on the same stretch where the hard shoulder is being converted into a permanent lane.
AA President Edmund King acknowledged the need to reduce air pollution but said: “Smart motorways were intended to ease congestion and improve journey time reliability through use of the hard shoulder and here we have a scheme which costs around £400m to simply slow traffic down to 60mph.”
The Markham Vale business site near Bolsover has always boasted fast and convenient access to the north and south with its M1 29a slip road. However, site developers Henry Boot have remained tight-lipped over the impact of a reduced limit on businesses and whether a lengthy 60 zone will deter new businesses from taking up residence.
A Markham Vale and Henry Boot spokesman said: “We will be considering the plans but we have no comment to make, positively or negatively, at this stage.”
The Highways Agency launched an eight week consultation on Monday running until March 3 with construction of Smart Motorways due to begin in spring.
Colin Harrison, of environmental campaign group Transition Chesterfield, feels there are no environmental drawbacks to lower speed limits which can create lower fuel consumption, less wear and tear on vehicles.
He added: “There are hardly any rational arguments against the proposed 60 limit.”
To get involved in the consultation call the Highways Agency on 0300 123 5000 or visit www.highways.gov.uk, enter consultation in the search box and click on the GOV.UK link to www.gov.uk to find the ‘M1 junctions 28 to 35a: maximum mandatory speed limit’ heading.
A Derbyshire County Council spokesman said: “These proposals would have a significant impact on Derbyshire motorists and businesses and there are a lot of issues to take into account before we respond to the Government’s consultation. Our officers are compiling a report for elected members.”
Other councils and the Highways Agency opted not to comment further on the matter at this stage.