A final decision over the £1.3 billion project to turn parts of the A66 into a dual carriageway has been delayed by four months. 

A decision by the Government had been expected on November 7 but instead, any decision to dual 50 miles of the A66 between M6 (J40) at Penrith and the A1(M) (J53) at Scotch Corner has now been delayed until March 7 2024. 

Mark Harper, Secretary of State for Transport, was due to decide whether to give the project the nod and award a formal development consent order (DCO). Work would have started in spring 2024 with the project completed in 2029, had the go-ahead been given. 

Huw Merriman MP, minister for transport, announced the delay in a statement: 

“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.” 

Opponents of the development will welcome the reprieve and further review of the schemes impact. Many have long cited the potential harm that this development threatens to inflict on the landscape and tranquillity of the North Pennines AONB. Much of this is centred around damage to the peat bogs and other habitats of internationally protected wildlife sites which the development would cause. It would cut though or close to six Special Areas of Conservation which have the highest level of protection for their wildlife importance. 

Dr Kate Willshaw, Policy Officer at Friends of the Lake District said: 

“This road scheme would damage internationally protected wildlife sites and cut a swathe through our most treasured landscapes. Notwithstanding the immediate damage to the landscape of Cumbria, the scheme also threatens to undermine the ambition and hard work of many organisations well underway in their efforts to achieve Net Zero for Cumbria by 2037.” 

The dualling of the A66 is likely to result in a significant increase in carbon emissions as vehicle journeys and speeds increase. With the Government postponement of the phase out of petrol and diesel cars to 2035, the carbon emissions from the A66 development are expected to be even higher than originally assessed for the project. Projections indicate an increase to Cumbria’s carbon emissions by an estimated 4%; impacting the county’s carbon budget and forcing other sectors to cut their emissions to balance the books. 

Many also feel that claims in National Highways own Environmental Statement about the benefits of easier car travel for day trippers contradict the Lake District National Park Authority’s own stated aims to reduce car travel to and within the National Park and World Heritage Site. 

The Government has made it a priority that the UK will have one of the most ambitious targets in the G20, cutting emissions by at least 68 per cent by 2030 on 1990 levels. Approval of such a substantial road scheme is likely to add vindication to The National Audit Office recently giving the Department for Transport the lowest possible rating for delivering on its legal climate, air quality and biodiversity targets [1] 

Dr Kate Willshaw said: 

“From the start of this process, we have called for safety upgrades to the road in the form of better junctions, safe crossings for local traffic and speed limits rather than wholesale dualling of the road. The motivation for this project is about the headlong rush to reduce travel times by increasing speeds on the road which in turn increases carbon emissions and undermines Cumbria’s forward-thinking ambition to reach net zero by 2037. 

“From a purely economic standpoint, the development represents poor value for money. It will only deliver 90p of social and economic benefits for every £1 of taxpayers money spent on it. We believe that the most sensible approach for the A66 would have been to undertake safety upgrades where needed.” 

Opponents of the development are also calling for further consideration to be given to the impact on the cultural heritage of Cumbria. The future of the 700 year old Brough Hill Fair Gypsy Traveller site, home to a Gypsy Traveller community whose traditions have helped to shape the landscape over hundreds of years, is under threat. The site, Chartered by King Edward III in 1329 would need to be relocated by National Highways to make way for the new road. The loss of this site would be seen by many as a further erosion of the historic cultural heritage of the county.