The Construction Index:

The A66 Northern Trans-Pennine project application has been granted development consent by the secretary of state for transport.

Transport secretary Mark Harper has approved the £1.5bn scheme despite it showing a benefit cost ratio (BCR) of just 0.90. BCR needs to be 1.0 before a project is calculated as giving a positive economic return.

A contracting team of Balfour Beatty, Costain, Keltbray and Kier was selected 18 months ago to work together on widening the remaining single carriageway sections of the A66 between M6 Junction 40 (Penrith) and the A1 at Scotch Corner.

Preparatory archaeological works and utilities diversions are currently taking place along the A66 but despite all planning approvals having now been secured, there is still a way to go until main construction might start. Opponents to the project have a month to lodge legal objections. Once the development consent order (DCO) decision challenge period has concluded in April 2024, the next step will be for government to review and approve the full business case.

Latest estimate for the project – 18 months old now – is £1,490m, including allowances for risk and inflation.

National Highways project director Stewart Jones said: “We are delighted to have received approval and to be able to give the people of Cumbria, County Durham and North Yorkshire some positive news. 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.”

Transport for the North (TfN) chief executive Martin Tugwell is also keen to see the diggers mobilised. “This is very welcome news that the people and businesses across Cumbria, Durham, North Yorkshire and the Tees Valley have been calling for over many years,” he said. “TfN set out the strategic importance of this scheme at its inquiry and it is good news to see the secretary of state confirm the order.

“Duelling the A66 will deliver vital improvements to east-west connectivity in the north. It will remove bottlenecks along this key corridor, make the road safer and more reliable for everyone who uses it, including the high percentage of freight using the route, and connect our towns and cities to Scotland.

“It will be one of the biggest investments in the north’s road network for a generation and we look forward to continuing to work with National Highways as they deliver this very important piece of national infrastructure.”

Transport Action Network director Chris Todd is less supportive. He said: “The A66 mega-road scheme is the worst value for money scheme in the roads programme. It will cost far more than it will ever generate in economic benefits. Not only that, but it would harm precious landscapes, damage internationally important habitats, destroy a seven-centuries old gypsy horse fair site, and increase carbon emissions by over 2.7 million tonnes.

“Rather than drive a massive dual carriageway through this nationally important landscape, National Highways should be looking at smaller scale safety improvements. This road scheme is entirely incompatible with our environmental and climate commitments.

“We will be looking very carefully at the decision letter and will be considering our options.”

Transport secretary Mark Harper recognised that the project was poor value for money but did not consider this to be a deal breaker.

As Natasha Kopala, head of the Department for Transport’s transport infrastructure planning unit, told National Highways in her 83-page letter of consent notification: “The secretary of state agrees with the applicant [i.e. National Highways] that BCR is only one component of the business case, and that other impacts and benefits need to be taken into account in making a decision on the application.”

A National Highways spokesperson said: “We are currently in the process of finalising the detailed design, ahead of the completion of the full business case …. The full business case will include confirmation of the project’s affordability and value for money.”


Also covered in Ground Engineering.


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