MAIN ROUTE: The A66 is to be upgraded by the Highways Agency which wants to address “safety, reliability and resilience” issues
MAIN ROUTE: The A66 is to be upgraded by the Highways Agency which wants to address “safety, reliability and resilience” issues

TALKS have begun with dale farmers who will be affected by the proposed upgrade of the A66 – even though it will be years before any work begins.

A meeting was organised by the NFU earlier this month at the Morritt Hotel and attracted about 25 farmers who work land close to the A66.

Highways England officials say they are currently drawing up a number of options which will be subject to public consultation in the summer.

The NFU, meanwhile, is keen to get farmers thinking about what lies ahead.

James Copeland, North East senior environment and land use advisor for the NFU, said: “What we often do for these types of developments is to let our members know that this is coming up and explain to them what it involves.

“It starts them thinking about the challenges, both during construction and afterwards. It was also for us to gauge how many members would be impacted, where they are and how they would be impacted – farmers may have land on both sides of the road, so what is needed to gain access?”

Mr Copeland said some initial assessment maps had been available for the meeting, which had proved useful.

“Farmers could look at them and pass on any local knowledge that might be helpful to Highways England.

“We anticipate that Highways England will be looking at safety and one of the critical aspects are collision points and cutting across the highway.”

He added: “One of the things we are keen to do is see that the impact on farm businesses with land both sides of the A66 is minimised.

“This could mean smarter junctions, underpasses or overpasses. There may be other opportunities for environmental improvements.”

Highways England was commissioned by the government to investigate some of the challenges facing the road network in the north.

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Part of this work is to put forward the case for dualling the A66 from Scotch Corner to Penrith, creating a new major trans-Pennine route as an alternative to the M62.

Barnard Castle town councillor Roger Peat was among those at the NFU meeting.

He said he was left with the impression that the A66 was preferred to the more northerly A69 as the new “strategic” trans-Pennine route, with a decision due towards the end of this year.

He told this month's town council meeting construction was unlikely to begin until 2023 and take five years to complete.

“The first priority is looking at collision hotspots. They are looking to close as many cross-over points as possible.”

He said if the A66 was chosen as the preferred trans-Pennine route, one of the implications would be an increase in HGVs carrying freight. Cllr Peat said this could give the town council a good chance to press the case for a Barnard Castle bypass.

Cllr Judi Sutherland said Highways England should be discouraged from routing traffic through the town during the construction phase, as happened with the A1 upgrade. Members also highlighted the effect the A66 dualling would have on the annual traveller migration to Appleby and whether or not their horse-drawn caravans would be allowed on the main road.

A spokesman for Highways England said the A66 project was not simply about dualling the remaining sections of single carriageway.

“The work we are doing on the A66 examines the case for dualling the road and making other improvements along its length which considers all road users.

“In addition to creating a strategic corridor, we are also seeking to address safety, reliability and resilience issues

“We are currently refining potential options that we will take forward for public consultation, due to take place this summer.

“We intend to hold a number of events along the A66 from Penrith to Scotch Corner to seek views on our proposals. Information about the consultation events will be publicised in due course and we are looking forward to hearing the views of road users and communities.”