Penrith’s “horrible choice” over transport planning
Sir, I was pleased to see the coverage of the issues around Eden Council’s idea of an eastern bypass and the suggestion of a southern route along a former railway line for the A66 which would take through traffic on a new road from before Kirkby Thore to join the M6 closer to Clifton.
This proposed southern route would simply take the money which is being allocated to improve the existing A66 and use it to build a new road, leaving the existing road and roundabouts unchanged.
After construction, non-local HGVs and through traffic would be required to use the southern route. This route would also be quicker for all such traffic.
Penrith and all the people in Eden face an invidious choice with the A66 improvements which are now being planned by the Government. If improvements (a flyover or underpass at Kemplay and improvements at Junction 40) are not made so through traffic can leave the motorway and join the A66 without using roundabouts at all, Penrith will be gridlocked.
If these junctions are improved, then Penrith will be gridlocked for about four years from 2024-28 while they are being built, with massive consequences to the trade of the town. A horrible choice.
I am pretty heavily involved with the issues of improving the A66 because the section between the end of the Temple Sowerby bypass and the existing dual carriageway by Brougham Castle runs by our family’s land (Winderwath) for much of the way on both sides of the current A66. More than 10 years ago I was involved in the Temple Sowerby bypass design for the same reason.
What I know is this: Highways England does not think the eastern bypass is a feasible road. It is too expensive to build and with huge engineering challenges. It would also require entirely separate funding to the planned A66 improvements.
Where to put vast amounts of spoil which would result from a vast cutting on the side of the Beacon is just one of the problems and Highways England has apparently told the council and its advisers that such a road would not open up the north of the town to development.
Then there is the issue of bridging the Eamont near St Ninian’s, which we (and many others) are utterly opposed to, given the fact it is a Grade I listed church and one of the historical glories of the area.
However, the council continues in public to promote the eastern bypass.
That said, we believe the council and its advisers are coming round to the reality that it won’t ever be built and therefore they need instead to plan local roads up from Junction 41 if the “new town” idea is to work.
It is also clear that running roads down from high ground into Penrith by the Fairhill junction is extremely challenging, so the main link of the new town to Penrith would likely be the motorway from Junction 41 to Junction 40.
Whether building a new town on land only 10 to 15 metres below the height of Shap above Penrith is wise is another matter. Quite a few of us who know the land well are encouraging Kevin Beaty and the council to seriously consider this southern railway route.
Highways England has made the following objections/observations about the idea of the southern route and we are making these points:
1) It has environmental concerns (largely about Cliburn Moss and rebuilding the former crossing of the Eden at Skygarth). We say there are lots of similar concerns about the existing route. The very considerable gain to the health of Penrith from taking the A66 traffic away isn’t being considered as yet, nor is the enormous benefit of opening up this side of Penrith to walkers, cyclists and tourists.
2) It might cost more. While we are not experts we have asked Highways England to cost both possible routes. Public documents suggest that new roads are much cheaper than building around and on top of old ones.
Using the railway route would involve building new dualling a bit more than a third longer than the existing undualled road from Kirkby Thore to Brougham. New roads are a half to two-thirds of the cost of building on an existing road. So that is probably the same cost. Would a new junction on the motorway, bridging the west coast line and a new bridge at Skygarth really be more expensive than improving the roundabouts at Kemplay and Junction 40?
4) It was suggested that the route could be longer between Kirkby Thore and Junction 40 on the railway line than along the existing A66, so vehicles would use more fuel for the average journey. Actually, it is almost the same distance.
5) Bridging the west coast railway line is an issue. We say that experts think it is quite feasible, and we asked about the cost. The line will have to be closed numerous times in exactly the same build period for HS2. Any engineering work could be planned for the same times. The same point was made about a new motorway junction and we asked why this would be more expensive or disruptive than improving Junction 40.
6) There are historical sites … Wetheriggs Pottery is Grade II listed and there is a stone circle some way away. We say it’s just the same on the existing A66 (just more historical issues and nationally important sites on and around the current road) but without the huge gain of opening up historical Penrith by moving the traffic on the A66 off the existing road.
I am keen to get the council and local people behind lobbying Highways England to ensure that it takes the southern railway route seriously and investigates it as an alternative. The good news is that Highways England tells us it has an open mind. It is also being completely open and transparent in its dealings.
We are pleased the council is now talking about this alternative route. However, money from the £250,000 grant from central government is still being squirted in the direction of the eastern bypass and the new town idea instead. That is clear from the recently adopted council resolution on how the money is to be spent.
Consultation is planned by Highways England for the A66. I want to ensure it is an open consultation with local people aware of all the facts so they can properly contribute their views. Yours etc,