M65 lights switch off ‘puts lives at risk’

Scene of the double fatal accident on the M65 between junctions 9 and 10.
Scene of the double fatal accident on the M65 between junctions 9 and 10.
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Lives will be put at risk by Lancashire County Council’s decision to remove lighting on the M65, a road safety campaigner has warned.

A multi-million pound project was announced last week that would see concrete barriers installed and lighting permanently removed between junction 10 at Gannow Top and junction 14 at Colne.

Chris Johnson (63), a maths and English lecturer from Gorrell Close, Newchurch-in-Pendle, has slammed the council over the removal of such lighting.

He claims they are prioritising cutting costs over saving lives.

“I find it totally unacceptable that the lights are to be turned off,” he wrote in an open letter to County Coun. John Fillis, cabinet member for Highways and Transport.

“I sincerely hope that those that have made the decision are prepared to live with the inevitable consequences.

“Lives are being put further at risk by the switching off of these lights.”

After Burnley father-of-two Mark Burgess (39) died in a crash near junction 8 in November 2013, coroner Mr Michael Singleton called on the Highways Agency to reconsider the decision to switch the lights off.

Mohammed Iqbal (49) from Burnley and Mazafer Iqbal (47), of Brierfield, died after they collided with two other vehicles last July.

That prompted Burnley’s then MP Gordon Birtwistle to say: “The lights should never have been switched off.”

But Coun. Fillis believes the removal of the lights will not cause a problem, and insisted that “health and safety was at the heart” of the £6.6m project.

“The evidence we have basically says that turning off the lights will not actually cause accidents,” he said.

“We will have safety lights and will be reducing the speed limit while the work is carried out. Health and safety will be at the heart of this.”

“It will be an inconvenience and I can apologise now, but in the long-term it will be safer.”

National policy requires councils to erect concrete barriers in the central reserve of newly-built motorways. They must also upgrade existing barriers to concrete barriers as they reach the end of their useful life.

Lancashire County Council say the new barriers will minimise the risk of cross-over accidents and reduce the need for repair and maintenance.

But Mr Johnson says the argument of being unable to incorporate the existing lights with the replacement barriers “does not hold any form of truth”.

He argues that the installation of new concrete barriers on the M5 between junction 3 at Halesowen and junction 4 at Lydiate Ash “proves quite conclusively” it can be done without needing to remove lighting.

“Lancashire County Council claimed they cannot do one without the other,” he said.

“I’m sorry but that does not wash. It is all about the cost.”

Coun. Fillis dismissed this claim, however, and reassured drivers that the multi-million pound project was about safety.

“We do work on evidence. It is not just cost-cutting,” he said.

“The evidence is that turning off lights like these does not cause additional hazards. If the evidence changes, we will look at it again.”