STRETCHES of the motorway network around Bolton may have their upper speed limits cut at peak times under a government scheme.

The Department of Transport’s “Controlled Motorways” initiative could see speed limits on sections of the M60, M6 and M62 cut to 40mph and 50mph at the busiest times.

The Highways Agency said its long-term aim was to use the hard shoulder on the M60. This would not necessarily mean the speed limit would be cut, but routinely lowering the speed limit to ease traffic flow at peak times was a plan for the motorway.

“Controlled Motorways” is set to be rolled out over the next five years, with the M6 between Birmingham and Manchester and the Manchester M60 ring road forming part of the plan.

A Highways Agency spokesman said: “On the M60, the only plan at the moment is to make traffic flow as smoothly as possible. People will be told to drive at a certain speed, say 50mph or 60mph, to get them through that particular area.

“We are not cutting speed limits for the sake of it — obviously the time of the day is important.

“Using the hard shoulder on the M60 and M62 will not necessarily mean the speed limit is cut.”

Cllr David Chadwick, Bolton Council’s cabinet member for Highways and Transport, said: “Not so long ago the government was talking about increasing the limit on motorways to 80mph. It is not a coherent policy and the government is sending out mixed messages.

“Our view is that, in Bolton, speed limits should sometimes be reduced for safety. On St Peter’s Way we cut the limit from 70mph to 50mph several years ago because there were so many accidents.”

Bolton Euro MP and UKIP deputy leader Paul Nuttall said the move would be a “huge step back” for motorists hoping to see limits increased to 80mph.

He added: “Our motorways are among the slowest in Europe. Increasing speed limits to 80mph would boost the economy by hundreds of millions of pounds. Slashing the speed limit would be nonsensical.”