£1.3bn Trans-Pennine project moves forward as Costain exits


A £1.3 billion infrastructure programme to overhaul a major highway in the north of England has moved forward – as a construction partner prepares to exit.  

A66 Northern Trans-Pennine project
A66 Northern Trans-Pennine project. Credit: National Highways.

The A66 Northern Trans-Pennine project Development Consent Order (DCO) examination has concluded, paving the way for the Examining Authority (EA) to make its recommendation to the Secretary of State for Transport.  

DCOs are required for designated (NSIP) Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (energy, transport, water and waste) rather than other consents such as planning permission, listed building consent, and compulsory purchase orders, which tend to fall to local authorities. 

The A66 Northern Trans-Pennine project involves dualling single carriageway sections and key junction improvements between M6 Junction 40 (Penrith) and the A1 at Scotch Corner, a more than 50-mile section of road across mountainous terrain.  

Credit: National Highways.

Balfour Beatty, Costain, Keltbray and Kier were appointed to the project, dubbed “one of the most critical road upgrades in the north”, in October last year – however Costain’s highways division was recently pulled from the project in what appeared to be a mutually agreed contractual review between National Highways and Costain. 

The firm had been contracted to ground investigation work and providing compounds, but it is understood the remaining partners will divide Costain’s works package, according to the Enquirer. 

Then, in May, National Highways appointed ground investigation contractor and RSK Group subsidiary, Structural Soils, as principal contractor on what is thought to be the ‘largest ground investigation project in the UK to date’  

RSK brought in 14 additional Group companies for the works across eight schemes, which are programmed to last 22 weeks.  

Several sections of the A66 have been upgraded or bypassed since the 1970s.  

In 2020, the project was designated a ‘Project Speed pathfinder’, which meant the construction time for the project would be halved and the opening of the road brought forward by five years to 2029.  

National Highways described the scheme as a “once in a lifetime project”. 

The Planning Inspectorate recently waved through 22 design change proposals to the project put forward by National Highways. Some key changes are below:   

  • Works to Center Parcs junction   
  • Changes within Ministry of Defence land   
  • Revised plan for Cafe Sixty-Six land   
  • Realignment: Main Street, Sleastonhow Lane, Crackenthorpe Underpass, Warrener Lane   
  • Removal of Sewage Works junction; new access from B6262   
  • Removal of Langrigg westbound junction; Langrigg Lane link revision   
  • Reorientation of Kemplay Bank junction   
  • Construction of noise barrier south of Brough   
  • Earlier tie-in of Cross Street   
  • Change in westbound speed limit    

It is expected the EA will make its recommendation to the Secretary of State by 29 August. 

Following a decision by the Secretary of State in November, works could start in 2024.        

“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,” said Lee Hillyard, project director 

“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. 

“We will continue to develop our detailed designs and will work with stakeholders, local businesses and landowners where appropriate, and I look forward to hearing the decision from the Secretary of State later this year.”  

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