A MAJOR road through the North-East has been described as a rust belt which holds back the region and leaves communities along its route neglected.
Four MPs have called for action to improve the state of the A68, which runs from Darlington to Edinburgh via County Durham and Northumberland.
Richard Holden, Dehenna Davison, Paul Howell and Peter Gibson – MPs for North West Durham, Bishop Auckland, Sedgefield and Darlington respectively – say it is time to deliver improvements to the road which were mooted back in 1951.
They have asked for a meeting with Roads Minister Baroness Vere to make their case for works to the A68, along with a Northern bypass for Darlington.
Opening a recent Westminster Hall debate on Road Connectivity from Teesside to Scotland, Mr Holden said: “Left behind, ignored, forgotten, neglected, overlooked, the rust belt – these phrases are often used to describe the communities that make up the towns and villages for whom the A68 is their lifeline.
“The state of the road right now holds back this whole part of the country, as a single carriageway road.”
Top of their wish-list is that, as an arterial route used by many HGVs, it be made part of the Strategic Road Network and operated and maintained by Highways England rather than local authorities along its route.
This should make it easier to plan and fund strategic improvements rather than piecemeal work.
They say an upgrade, which could include dualling sections of the A68, would improve access for tourists and businesses.
Mr Howell said: “The road is a critical part in connecting the 10,000 jobs on the Aycliffe Business Park and business around Durham, Teesside, the future freeport there and to Scotland.”
The MPs also want to see the Darlington ring-road completed, to benefit the town and improve links with the A1 and Teesside.
Mr Gibson said: ‘‘Levelling up our infrastructure must include improvements to the A68 and the building of the Darlington Northern Link Road.”
Leader of Darlington Borough Council, Cllr Heather Scott, said: “We are developing proposals to improve the A68 corridor through Darlington and will be seeking Government support to deliver ambitious plans to improve the A68 from the motorway to the town centre.
“A new strategic road connection from the A1(M) to Teesside is vitally important and we are continuing to develop proposals for a Darlington Northern Link Road to better connect Darlington and the Tees Valley to the rest of the UK.”
And, in a letter to Baroness Vere, they say bypasses for both Toft Hill and West Auckland, near Bishop Auckland, are needed because passing through residential zones slows down commercial traffic and is a major concern for residents.
Durham County Council has recently bid for £20m of Government cash for connectivity projects, which include a Toft Hill bypass, though there are concerns about its proposed route.
Ms Davison said: “For too long, residents of Toft Hill have been plagued by having the A68 run straight through the narrow village, bringing heavy traffic including HGVs.
“A Toft Hill Bypass is desperately needed to improve traffic and air pollution, and to improve safety for residents.“Following this, the West Auckland Bypass must be completed urgently to finish the project started decades ago and ensure we have the roads we need to move into the future.”
Cllr Richard Bell, deputy leader and Cabinet member for finance at Durham County Council, said: “We have been keen to support local communities along the A68 even though the current status of the road makes it difficult to attract national funding.
“We are delighted to have recently submitted a bid via the Levelling up Fund for a Toft Hill bypass and look forward to working with the communities around West Auckland to consider other future opportunities.”
Mr Holden added: “The A68 and roads across County Durham have been neglected for seven decades and need vital improvements.
“We will keep campaigning until we see significant improvements in this vital arterial route, including much needed by-passes, on this vital third major road link (alongside the A1 and M6) between England and Scotland.”
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