Calls grow for Highways England to be stripped of road responsibilities in North Yorkshire

The A66 at Scotch Corner.

Calls are mounting for Highways England to be stripped of its responsibilities in North Yorkshire as part of the area’s devolution deal.

Despite North Yorkshire County Council raising concerns over Highway England’s accountability last year, frustration with the organisation has increased as its officers have repeatedly failed to attend meetings they had agreed to attend to answer residents’ questions over plans for major roads.

Councillors did not attempt to conceal their anger upon discovering no officers from the agency would again not be attending a meeting of the authority’s Thirsk and Malton constituency committee, where they had been due to speak about multi-million pound schemes on the A64 between York and Scarborough, the A1(M) near Leeming, the A66 west of Scotch Corner and the A1237 York Outer Ring Road.

Members were told Highways England had produced an outline report ahead of the meeting, but when pressed had declined to name which officer would attend.

The committee’s chairman, Councillor Caroline Goodrick said: “I do find it incredibly frustrating that they are a quango and we never seem to be able to get the answers. We have got members of our community wanting to know what’s going on.”

The authority’s deputy leader Councillor Gareth Dadd said he had been deeply disappointed by the apparent snub from a body that is given about £3 to spend per metre of road compared to the £1 per metre of road the council was given to maintain its 5,750-mile road network.

He said: “They are an un-elected quango and are not unanswerable to anybody but a government minister. If they can’t see their way to send an officer for an hour to speak to those of us that face the public it’s a pretty sad state of affairs.

Members voiced their approval as Cllr Dadd suggested as part of its devolution deal local authorities in North Yorkshire and York could press the government to include handing over Highways England’s roads in the area.

The call follows a similar such move being discussed by the leaders of the North Yorkshire and York local authorities last week as they develop a proposal to negotiate the powers and funding they would like transferred in a devolution deal.

It also comes after years of friction between the agency and communities across the area, including a high-profile campaign in Masham after £330m was spent upgrading the A1 to a motoway only for signs to the town to be removed, sparking a slump in visitors. After the agency asked Masham for £187,000 to replace two road signs, the Roads Minister intervened.

Highways England also came under fire last after it emerged a scheme to improve the A64 had been made less of a priority and that five months of resurfacing works would be needed on the A1(M) just seven years after re-opening the road.

A spokesman for Highways England said it understood that residents were keen to hear about plans for the major routes.

He added: “Unfortunately we weren’t in a position to attend last night’s meeting because we couldn’t pre-empt anything that might have been in the publication of RIS2, the Government document that sets out our road investment strategy for between April 2020 and March 2025.

“Now RIS 2 has been published we are looking forward to attending the next meeting where we will be able to provide much more useful information to residents.”