Bumper road project delayed again as legal challenge comes in

A £1.49bn project to develop the A66 has hit another stumbling block in the form of a legal challenge.

The A66 Northern Trans-Pennine project received development consent last month. The project would see a 50km section of road upgraded to dual carriageway.

But during a legal challenge period that ended on 18 April 2024, an unnamed local protest group lodged a challenge against the project.

The project is set to be delivered by Kier, Balfour Beatty and Keltbray, which were appointed by National Highways in 2022. Costain was originally picked alongside the trio but left the job less than a year later.

In a statement, National Highways said it was disappointed by the legal challenge, but it was too early to say how much of an impact it would have on its programme and start of works.

“We will continue to carry out archaeological investigations and preparatory works including utilities diversions during 2024,” National Highways said in the statement.

“We believe our proposals will provide much-needed improved safety and reliability for drivers and businesses that use this vitally important route every day, while also delivering a boost to the regional economy.”

The project has faced multiple delays, with a decision on development consent initially expected for last year.

It was delayed in November, partially to allow more time to consider the scheme’s impact on the North Pennine Moors Special Area of Conservation.

In July 2023, Labour MP and transport select committee member Mike Amesbury called for an investigation into “very concerning” cost increases on the project, which was originally due to cost £1bn but in a 2022 funding statement was estimated to have a “most likely” cost of £1.49bn.

The scheme, which runs through prime minister Rishi Sunak’s Yorkshire constituency of Richmond, was previously described by the Department for Transport as “poor value for money” at £1.3bn.

Construction News approached Balfour Beatty, Kier and Keltbray for comment. Balfour Beatty declined to comment, saying any further information would come from National Highways.

A spokesperson for National Highways said the A66 is a “key route” in the north of England.

“The route currently suffers from heavy congestion and has a poor collision record. We believe our proposals will provide smoother and safer journeys for thousands of commuters, hauliers and drivers who use this vitally important route every day, while also delivering an economic boost to the North,” they added.

A spokesperson for the DfT said it is investing £24bn into the road system to “reduce congestion, boost the economy and create jobs”.

“We’ve also recently unveiled our long-term Plan for Drivers to slam the brakes on anti-car measures and keep the country moving.”

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