Not so fast! PINS pans plans to change A66 bid

Chris Ames

National Highways has notified the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) that it intends to make 40 changes to plans for its flagship A66 scheme.

PINS has now pushed back against the government-owned company’s proposal that it would consult on the move after formally requesting it.

The £1bn A66 Northern Trans-Pennine project is made up of a number of schemes, whose overall effect would see the remaining single carriageway sections of the route between M6 Junction 40 (Penrith) and the A1 at Scotch Corner dualled and key junctions improved.

National Highways submitted its planning application in June and the following month PINS accepted it for consideration.

In a letter to PINS last month, Monica Corso Griffiths, A66 head of design and DCO, said that subject to agreement from PINS, National Highways intends to submit a written change request on 24 January.

This would be followed by a consultation starting two days later and running to 3 March.

The letter acknowledged that once the request has been submitted, the PINS will need to decide whether or not to accept the proposed changes in the examination process.

However, in response, PINS’ lead panel member, Richard Allen, has advised National Highways to submit any formal change after any consultation is concluded.

Mr Allen wrote that this approach would provide PINS with ‘a complete package of information’ to inform its decision and also allow National Highways to review comments received and make any necessary changes before submission.

Rebecca Lush, roads and climate campaigner at Transport Action Network, said: ‘It is extraordinary yet unsurprising National Highways are having to substantially change their DCO application midway through the examination. This upheaval is the inevitable consequence of so-called Project Speed, which would be more aptly named Project Slapdash.

‘National Highways rushed through secretive consultations prior to submission, resulting in a poorly designed and prepared application, causing inconvenience to the Planning Inspectorate and objectors alike. Rather than push this £1.5bn poor value for money scheme, the best solution would be for National Highways to examine small-scale engineering solutions instead to increase safety on the route.’

In her letter, Ms Corso stated that the changes that National Highways intended to request had arisen from a variety of factors, including requests from affected parties; stakeholder feedback; the identification of opportunities to further reduce the environmental impacts of the project and opportunities to reduce the amount of land required; and the identification of further safety benefits.

She added that with the project falling under the Project Speed initiative, detailed design work is being progressed at an earlier stage than it would be ordinarily and that following of its application,

National Highways has procured the services of delivery integration partners responsible for the detailed design and construction stages of the project, which ‘presents opportunities to address buildability issues which would not normally come to light until after development consent had been granted for a project’.

The letter also acknowledged that the question of whether the proposed changes are considered material or non-material is a matter of judgement for PINS but added that National Highways’ view was that the majority are not material.

It added that the company believes that collectively the proposed changes, if accepted, would not materially change the substance of the relevant scheme within the overall project or materially change the nature of the project as a whole.

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