M6 Toll - Britain's first Toll Motorway

On the evening of 18th April, members of the Society were joined by Chris Jackson, Head of Community Relations for CAMBBA, the Birmingham Northern Relief road motorway consortium, who gave us a progress report on the construction of what is one of the most expensive road schemes ever in the United Kingdom. Stretching for 43 kilometres (27 miles) from the M6 at Junction 12 to rejoin the M6 at Junction 4, it will cost 485.5m.

Chris told us that it is a unique first for Britain because it was the first real toll road that has been constructed (although I suspect that Thomas Telford might have disputed this when he improved the A5 toll road from London to Holyhead!). So big is the scheme that it is split into four sections with four dedicated construction teams. CAMBBA is the consortium building the route for Midlands Expressway. Midlands Expressway itself is controlled by Italian and Australian interests and the building consortium comprises Carillion (formerly part of Tarmac), Alfred McAlpine, Balfour Beatty and AMEC. They have 350 staff on the ground dealing with the project before handing it over to Midlands Expressway to operate. The road is fully privately funded and over 700m has been raised through Bank of America and Abbey National by the Midlands Expressway Group to acquire the land, compensate landowners and construct the road. Midlands Expressway hold a 53-year concession including 3 years to build the road and 50 years to operate it.

Besides the obvious benefits of relieving residents of traffic disturbance where they live adjacent to the A5, particularly through Cannock, the route is clearly designed to take pressure off the M6 through the West Midlands conurbation. Midlands Expressway hope that 70,000 vehicles a day will use this route and will be setting the tolls to achieve that target. We will all have to wait a little longer to find out what their toll charges are and even then, of course, they have the option of varying them, depending upon whether the traffic using the route is heavier or lighter than expected.

Chris took us on a journey down the proposed route from Cannock in the north to beyond Sutton Coldfield in the south. He identified the various junction proposals, the location of the toll plazas and the new service area which will be established near Norton Canes. Towards its southern extremity, it actually joins the M42 for a short distance before leaving it to rejoin the M6.

Chris announced what to some of us was the frightening prospect of a 13-lane motorway in that general vicinity.

The contract for the scheme was let on 29 September 2000 and construction work got underway in April 2001. The road should be completed by January 2004, giving a 40-month construction period for this major project.

One interesting by-product of the road construction works has been the archaeological investigations and particularly the findings exposed close to Wall. To everyone's surprise a Roman cremation site has been discovered next to the line of Ryknield Street, south of Wall. The dead were cremated and their remains buried in urns. Over 50 of these urns have been located and have added to our general understanding of the Wall Roman settlement.

Chris took us through an interesting range of environmental mitigation works, exploring the relocation of badgers, bats, water voles and great-crested newts as well as the white-clawed crayfish. Four kilometres of ancient hedgerows have been relocated and two acres of damp acidic heathland also moved, using specialist equipment.

The scale of the project is truly awesome. Over two million tonnes of topsoil have to be removed and stored and then reused for landscaping purposes. There are 9..2 million cubic metres of material to be excavated for cutting and 7.5 million cubic metres required for fill. A delicate balancing act has to be achieved to avoid the need to ship major volumes of material offsite or to import major volumes of material. Existing sand and gravel workings, particularly close to the Belfry, have yielded sand and gravel reserves, as well as themselves forming part of the route. This has meant that the source of new sand and gravel material has been identified very locally and obviated a need for longer lorry journeys to and from quarries.

In all, over 1100 acres of land will be landscaped, 57 new bridges built and most importantly, at Churchbridge the culverts will be designed to a scale to accommodate the reopening of the canal through this area. The Birmingham and Fazeley Canal has had a new lock constructed on it in order to ensure a satisfactory crossing of the canal by the new motorway.

Finally, Chris took us on an aerial excursion looking at specific sites including the problem areas of Churchbridge (where the existing road network, electricity pylons, canal and utilities have all got to be funnelled through a very narrow area), Chasewater (where the relationship to the water area has to be carefully dealt with), the new Burntwood interchange at Wharf Lane and Wall Island on the A5, which Chris assured us would be infinitely better once it had been redesigned to accommodate the new road. Chris reminded us that he, and his colleagues Alison Barlow and Pam Melrose, were available on 0845 6013611 to deal with any queries relating to the road. The new website for the road is now up and running on www.m6tol.co.uk and requests for their attendance at meetings of community and amenity groups usually meets with a favourable response.

Members left the meeting full of admiration for the way in which such a complex project was being so efficiently tackled. Your writer left with the thought that at 485.5m, we could rebuild Lichfield City Station 400 times over!

Roger Hockney
April 2002