A community leader has apologised to residents affected by motorway closures after traffic was diverted along a town road at short notice.
Stone Road in Stafford has been used as a diversion route during overnight closures of the M6 between Junctions 13 and 14. But the extra traffic has led to damage on the road surface, as well as disturbance to residents at night.
Work has been taking place for more than two years to convert a 17-mile stretch of the M6, between Junctions 13 at Stafford south and 15 at Stoke-on-Trent, into a ‘smart motorway’. The project is set to be completed in 2021/22.
County councillor Jonathan Price, who represents Stafford North, said he was advised there would be no more night closures of the M6 near Stafford and passed on the news to Stone Road residents.
But just days later residents were told by Highways England that more night closures were on the cards.
The M6 was closed near Stafford for three nights last week – and the decision was taken by Staffordshire County Council to divert motorway traffic along Eccleshall Road instead of Stone Road.
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But the move sparked complaints from Eccleshall Road residents about vehicle noise and speeding along the 30mph stretch of road leading to the M6.
David Williams, cabinet member for Highways and Transport at Staffordshire County Council said: “We do listen to local communities when they have issues about traffic in their area and make decisions based on a number of factors.
“The diversions on the Stone Road are part of the overnight closures on the M6 Smart Motorway project being delivered by Highways England. This was a short, three-day diversion which is now completed.”
Councillor Price said the authority had been “caught between a rock and a hard place” when deciding which road to use as the diversion route last week.
“Residents have suffered enough,” he added. “The M6 closures over the last few years have caused misery to residents and are finally drawing to a close.
“The Stone Road surface is now starting to break up on the narrow road sections and cannot take huge amounts of heavy goods vehicles.
“When the smart motorway project began damage to the carriageway was spoken about, along with discussions on alternative diversions and the impact of HGVs and heavy night traffic on residents’ mental and physical health.
“Despite expressing these concerns, many have come to fruition.
“Homes in the damaged section have frontages only a few metres away from the road itself.
“After visiting these residents, I discovered that they were unable to open windows at night during the extreme hot weather, and some were forced to sleep in other parts of their home.
“Four weeks ago I wrote to residents on the Stone Road and gave assurances that there would be no more night closures. Both myself and Staffordshire County Council Highways were advised by Highways England this was the case.
“You can imagine my anger when Highways England then wrote to residents on the Stone Road advising them of more closures. This I find wholly unacceptable.
“I am extremely angered and shocked by the latest closures – as were Staffordshire County Council Highways. The impossible decision was made to divert the traffic up the Eccleshall Road for three nights.
“I am aware that some Eccleshall Road residents are extremely unhappy with the decision. I both empathise and understand why – just as I understand the views of Stone Road residents.
“I am ‘assured’ that works are nearing completion, with only a couple of closures expected in the future. Both roads are designated an ‘A’ road and both are part of the diversion route.
“I can only apologise for the impact this work by Highways England has had on residents. I ‘inherited’ the aftermath of this project and had I have been county councillor when this was at negotiation stage, would have worked to get a fairer deal for residents with these national bodies.
“We all look forward to seeing the end of smart motorway works in the Stafford area, and a return to normality.”
Highways England Smart Motorway Project Sponsor Peter Smith said: “We appreciate roadworks can be disruptive and are sorry there’s been a misunderstanding with Councillor Price.
“To protect both our workforce and road users there are times when we have to close the motorway to safely carry out upgrade work.
“We only do this when absolutely necessary and at night when we know the roads are quieter.
“By installing a contraflow arrangement on the M6, we’ve managed to halve the number of motorway closures.
“There will be further overnight closures until next summer. We’re doing everything we can to minimise disruption and the use of diversion routes and thank people for their patience.”