Planning approved for £1.49bn A66 dualling project

The government has approved plans for a major upgrade of the A66 Northern Trans-Pennine route in Yorkshire.

The 80km stretch of the A66 between the M6 at Penrith and the A1(M) at Scotch Corner is currently intermittently dualled, with a total of 30km of single carriageway across six separate sections of road.

But construction would see the whole road upgraded to dual carriageway, with additional improvements made to some junctions and existing dualled parts of the road.

The Planning Inspectorate has approved a development consent order for the scheme on behalf of transport secretary Mark Harper. A decision on the route was expected last year but was delayed in November, partially to allow more time to consider the scheme’s impact on the North Pennine Moors Special Area of Conservation.

National Highways is now finalising a detailed design and full business case, which will still have to be signed off by the government after a decision-challenge period for the development consent order has concluded in April.

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

At the time, National Highways said that it was “committed to delivering the scheme for £1.3bn”. However, a spokesperson for the roads agency has now declined to stand by this figure. The spokesperson said further details on cost and value for money would be unveiled with the full business case.

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.

In July, Construction News revealed that Kier and Balfour Beatty both submitted early warning notifications to National Highways, suggesting that Costain’s departure could lead to an “increase in contractor costs” and an “increase in the total prices for the job”.

Commenting on the development consent order, National Highways’ project director for the A66 Northern Trans-Pennine project Stewart Jones said: “A lot of hard work has gone into getting us to this position. Now we can push on and deliver this project as efficiently as possible.

“We will be part of community life for the next few years, so we want to make sure we are giving back. We will be using local companies and employment during our construction work, which will help support the local economy.

“We want to work with local schools, colleges, academies, universities and community groups, encouraging the engineers of the future to consider a career in construction and provide training opportunities.”  

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