Fears are growing that a once-in-a-lifetime project to finally transform the A66 trans- Pennine route into a full length dual carriageway is in doubt as costs spiral to £1.5bn.

The notorious 50-mile stretch from Scotch Corner at the A1(M) in North Yorkshire to Penrith on the M6 in Cumbria is a dangerous mixture of single and dual carriageway. A huge consultation and planning exercise has been carried out by National Highways over the past four years and work was due to begin in 2024 pending the final go ahead by the Government.

But there are rising concerns about the scheme, leaving local people furious and calling on the Department for Transport to finally finish the job.

Four contractors had been appointed for the Northern Trans-Pennine Project, Balfour Beatty, Costain, Keltbray and Kier. But in June it was reported Costain had been "pulled" from the contract, although both National Highways and Costain described the decision as "an agreed change in contracting strategy".

The scheme was originally due to cost £1bn, but recent reports have put it at £1.5bn.

Now the Northern Policy Foundation think tank has reported delays are set to see costs spiral amid analysis that the scheme represents poor value for money for taxpayers.

Tom Lees, director of the Northern Policy Foundation, said: “With only three of 22 Department for Transport projects given the green light by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, the department and its arms length bodies do not seem fit for purpose when it comes to delivery.

“Sadly the issues the A66 is experiencing, significant cost increases, poor value for money and likely missed delivery programmes, are all too common and add to a long list of problematic projects.

Darlington and Stockton Times:

“Our modelling shows that with the removal of Costain from the project could lead to further budget increases and even poorer value for money to Northern taxpayers and residents.”

In June National Highways said it is a once-in-a lifetime project. Lee Hillyard, A66 Northern Trans-Pennine project director, revealed recommendations are due to be made to the Secretary of State by August 29 with a decision by November.

He added: “There is a huge desire from the public, stakeholders and business owners to see changes being made to such a key part of our network that connects the North West and the North East.

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“The A66 plays an important role in the life of nearby communities, connecting people to jobs, education, health, goods, holiday destinations and other essential services.

“Sadly, there are currently far too many accidents on the road which can close it for a long time. By dualling the 18 miles of single carriageway, we can make journeys safer and more reliable.”

The Department for Transport referred questions on the project to an answer made by Under Secretary Andrew Holden in the Commons after concerns were raised about value for money. He said: “National Highways is developing the Full Business Case for the A66 Northern Trans-Pennine Project, which will confirm the Benefit-Cost Ratio and Value for Money assessment. Once complete, this will be assessed, and any decision is contingent on the final planning decision.”

Darlington and Stockton Times: There was an accident on the A66 near Appleby on Tuesday

North Yorkshire councillor Stuart Parsons, Independents Group Leader, said: “I think most people are not surprised it’s running into difficulties given this government's track record of announcing marvellous wonderful things and then scrapping them. Everybody will be very, very disappointed if this does not happen.

“I have been hearing about horrendous problems on the A66 since I was a child. We thought they were getting somewhere a few years ago, but they only did part of what was required. It is a major piece of infrastructure for the north and they have only partly invested in it, it is a crying shame.

“I would call on them to complete this vital work, and if they are running short of money they could take it off HS2 and put it where it is really needed.”

North Yorkshire Councillor for the North Richmondshire division, Conservative Angus Thompson, said: “I am very concerned at any possibility of a postponement or worse cancellation of the proposed duelling of the six sections of the A66. We have campaigned for years to get this upgrade done on a road where there are often huge delays for the travelling public through volume of traffic, accidents and sadly on occasions, fatalities.

“Also, as part of the upgrade National Highways have plans to do much needed improvements to Scotch Corner roundabout which is often gridlocked due to volume of traffic. I sincerely hope that these improvements are not in doubt, but if that is the case then there must be a deferment of granting of any further planning permissions in the Scotch Corner area until the situation is absolutely clear.”