Decision time on long-awaited bypass as funding falls short

A LONG-AWAITED bypass has been heralded as vital for boosting enterprise and tourism across the Yorkshire Dales as a financially-stricken council is set to decide if it can fund the multi-million pound scheme.

The Government has pledged £35.9m to help pay for the project earmarked for the A684 to help solve traffic congestion in the market town of Bedale, which is a key gateway to prime tourism destinations such as Wensleydale.

But the funding package from Westminster is £14m less than North Yorkshire County Council had asked for, leaving a major question mark hanging over whether the authority will be able to able to cover the multi-million pound shortfall.

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Senior members of the council’s executive will meet on Tuesday to decide whether enough money can be found to finance the bypass as the authority battles to make £69m in savings amid the Government’s austerity drive.

The council’s executive member for highways and planning services, Coun Gareth Dadd, said: “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, although we will have to consider the financial implications extremely carefully. It is one of the biggest decisions that the council will have to make in recent years.

“There are implications for future generations by bringing in the road improvements, but in terms of the cost, it could hamper future councils a great deal.

“But the money from the Government will not be on offer again if we do not take advantage of it, certainly not in my lifetime and not for many years to come.”

Analysis by civil servants at County Hall has estimated the council could be faced with providing between £6.5m and nearly £23.5m depending on the final cost of the scheme, which has already been blighted by delays. However, Coun Dadd stressed that he believed that the worst case scenario is unlikely.

But the plans for the bypass have split opinion between other councillors.

Coun John Blackie, who represents the Upper Dales division on the county council and is also the leader of Richmondshire District Council, said: “Bedale is a gateway to the Dales, and the benefits of a bypass would be felt throughout the area.

“The financial implications do need to be considered carefully, but this is a scheme which would help boost tourism and attract new business.”

However, Coun Melva Steckles, who represents the Central Richmondshire division on the county council, claimed more modest and less expensive road schemes, with improvements to existing junctions in Bedale, should be considered.

The Yorkshire Post revealed last September that opposition Liberal Democrat councillors had warned any more delays for the bypass, which has been mooted since the mid-1990s, will leave taxpayers lumbered with millions of pounds of debt at a time when the authority is faced with massive cuts.

Senior Lib Dem members claimed the project’s initial costs which were predicted to be £25m had now doubled in only four years.