The Planning Inspectorate (PINS) has accepted National Highways' planning application for the £1bn A66 Northern Trans-Pennine project for consideration, despite concerns about the quality of its consultation.
The government-owned company submitted an application for a Development Consent Order (DCO) application for the scheme last month and PINS has confirmed that it will move onto the pre-examination stage.
If the scheme eventually receives backing from the transport secretary, it will see the remaining single carriageway sections of the route dualled and key junctions between M6 Junction 40 (Penrith) and the A1 at Scotch Corner improved.
It is part of the Government’s Project Speed and officials previously said that the construction phase of the project has been halved from 10 to five years.
National Highways said the submission followed a series of consultations with local communities which began last autumn, including a series of ‘targeted’ non-statutory consultations that were criticised by campaigners over a lack of publicity.
Lee Hillyard, National Highways’ A66 Northern Trans-Pennine project director, said: ‘We are pleased that our DCO submission has been successful and accepted by the Planning Inspectorate and this marks another significant milestone for this important project.
‘I’d like to thank the members of the public and stakeholders for their input throughout the consultation process and we will continue to keep them informed of the latest developments in relation to the project.’
National Highways said that if the scheme obtains development consent, work on the project is expected to start in 2024.
Rebecca Lush, roads and climate campaigner at Transport Action Network, said: 'Project Speed has turned into Project Bulldoze Democracy. We are astonished that the Planning Inspectorate has condoned these appalling new, secretive consultation tactics from National Highways.
'It ran consultations without publicising the links to the consultation documents and has not consulted properly with land and property owners along the route. This is not good enough.'