Highways England aim to complete £1bn A66 upgrade before 2030
Highways England hope to complete the £1bn upgrade to the A66 in Cumbria before 2030, following indications from the Government that it backs an acceleration of the project.
The A66 Northern Trans-Pennine Project proposes to convert the entire 50-mile stretch of the road from where it meets the M6 near Penrith to where it meets the A1M at Scotch Corner into duel carriageway.
Briefing members of Cumbria County Council on the progress of the scheme yesterday, Highways England project director Brian Williams explained that the Government is supporting an acceleration of the project’s delivery, which was not due to be complete until 2035.
“Now, what we have proposed, and what is being supported, is a start of works on the A66 in January 2024, and an open for traffic date five years later in January of 2029,” Mr Williams told the Cumbria County Council Local Committee for Eden at its virtual meeting yesterday.
“That’s a significant improvement on the previous position, both in terms of bringing start of works forward, but also we’ve halved the actual construction period from 10 years to five years,” he said.
“It’s worth acknowledging that in order to do that, we require support from Government”, Mr Williams added.
He added that in “broad terms”, the project is a £1bn investment, making it “one of the largest and most significant investments in the north”.
Mr Williams said that ground investigations and “other environmental assessments” are set to begin next week, and will continue throughout the year.
“That’s absolutely critical to provide confidence around the design and design developments as we take that forward,” he said.
Midway through this year, Highways England will be launching a further public consultation on the proposals for the A66 upgrade.
“This is an opportunity for people to provide feedback,” Mr Williams said.
“We will take all that feedback, consider it, and then prepare our development consent order application, on our current timelines we intend to be submitting that by February of 2022.”
Questioning Mr Williams on the A66 plans, Liberal Democrat councillor for the Eden Lakes division Neil Hughes asked whether last week’s announcement from the Government of a cut of 40 per cent to next year’s Transport for the North budget would affect the A66 plans.
Mr Williams responded that there would be no direct funding implications for the A66 project as a result of this funding cut.
“Highways England gets its funding direct from the Department for Transport,” Mr Williams said.
“We do need to acknowledge that if there’s a reduction in funding for TfN, then as a key stakeholder, maybe they’re not [going to be] able to provide us as a project with the same level of support or advocacy that maybe they have done in the past.
“It’s not to say there won’t be an implication. We’ll just have to work through that.”
In the spring of last year, Highways England announced its preferred options for the routes the new duel carriageway sections of the A66 would take.
At yesterday’s meeting, Appleby division Liberal Democrat councillor Andy Connell and Kirkby Stephen division Conservative councillor Phil Dew raised concerns with Highways England’s decision to widen the existing road between Appleby and Brough.
“There’s quite a lot of unhappiness with this proposal, it’s thought to be too close to Warcop,” Mr Connell said.
“There is an argument that it should go further north, but the argument against this is that it violates an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty,” Mr Connell added.
“I can only say there seems be fairly random designation.
“Anyone who’s been there knows there’s nothing particularly beautiful about the area through which a northern route would pass.
“It’s MoD land, it’s got a lot of military debris now unused. The beauty is further up the fellside.”
Mr Dew concurred, adding that the designation of the area immediately north of the A66 as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty was “very questionable”.
Mr Williams explained that Highways England had discounted exploring an option of taking the A66 into this area further north because of indications from Natural England, the body that designates Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, that it would not support any proposals that involved the A66 crossing into said area.
“They’ve been categorical in their feedback”, Mr Williams said. “They would strongly challenge this northern option.”
Mr Williams also sought to reassure Mr Dew, who raised concerns over the impact the project would have on tributary roads of the A66, that the vast majority of the construction will be carried out without needing to close or divert the A66 itself.
“Ninety-five per cent of the upgrade of the A66 that we’re doing is effectively offline upgrading,” Mr Williams said.
“As we are building the new duel carriageway, we will at the same time be keeping the current A66 open for traffic.
“It’s critical that that corridor from one side of the country to the other is maintained as we’re upgrading it.”