Criticism over A66 upgrade delay decision

The A66 at Scotch Corner.

A delay to a decision about whether to fully upgrade the A66 has been criticised.

The A66 Northern Trans-Pennine project would dual 50 miles (80km) from Penrith to Scotch Corner.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper was due to rule on the £1.3bn scheme on Tuesday.

However, Huw Merriman, Minister of State at the Department for Transport, said in a statement this week: “It has been necessary to extend the deadline for the decision on the application by National Highways under the Planning Act 2008 for the A66 Northern Trans-Pennine Development Consent Order (DCO).

“The deadline for the decision is to be extended to March 7, 2024 (an extension of four months).

“The reason for the extension is to allow for further consideration of matters including those not resolved at the time the examining authority’s report was received by the Secretary of State. This will include the consideration of information submitted by the applicant regarding impacts on the North Pennine Moors Special Area of Conservation, to ensure compliance with the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017.

“The decision to set a new deadline is without prejudice to the decision on whether to give development consent for the above application.”

Responding to the decision a spokesperson for Transport for the North said: “We are disappointed to hear of a delay to the decision on upgrading the A66. But the important thing is to get the right answer, which we strongly believe is upgrading this key route to improve connections and experience for the people that use it.

“Removing the bottlenecks along this key east-west corridor will make the road safer and more reliable for travellers and help freight get across the Pennines by linking ports on both coasts and providing onward connectivity to Scotland.

“It’s not only a hugely important route between the Lake District, North Yorkshire and the Tees Valley – and the dozens of communities in between – it also helps connect Scotland to our towns and cities.

“We look forward to what we hope will be the go-ahead for this very important piece of national infrastructure.”

National Highways (NH) first made recommendations on improving the route in 2016 and carried out consultations in 2019 and 2021.

A further public consultation ended on 27 February and other interested parties had until 28 October to comment.

Inspectors appointed to look at the application issued a recommendation to the secretary of state on 7 August, giving him three months to make a decision.

More than 30 changes have been made to the planning application since it was first mooted and NH said in January that, if approved, construction would begin next year.

The scheme involves five bypasses being built and an underpass dug at the Kemplay Bank roundabout near Penrith, to reduce congestion.

NH previously said the scheme would speed up journeys and make the route “fit for the rest of the century”.