HIGHWAYS chiefs are coming under intense pressure to ensure lives are not put at risk in some of the remotest communities in the Yorkshire Dales while a £1m programme of road repairs is carried out ahead of the Tour de France’s arrival in the region.
GPs and police officers fear that the work to prevent landslips in the Upper Dales is being carried out in winter months when isolated settlements face being cut off by heavy snowfall and ice.
North Yorkshire County Council has stressed the repairs along the A6108 and B6270 between Richmond and Reeth are “essential” in an attempt to prevent landslips and secure the long-term future of the roads.
But email correspondence seen by the Yorkshire Post has disclosed the extent of the fears among senior officials from the emergency services and medical professionals. They say proposed road closures while the repairs are carried out will mean 1,500 residents in Swaledale and Arkengarthdale will be forced to use only remote moorland routes which are often closed following heavy snowfall.
Richmondshire District Council’s leader John Blackie claimed that he had been given assurances that the repairs programme would begin in either September or October, but the work is now due to be carried out throughout the depths of the winter.
Coun Blackie, who also represents the Upper Dales division on the county council, said: “If it had started then there would have been little or no risk of encountering hostile winter weather but there are very real fears of the emergency services and the community of being cut off whilst the Reeth to Richmond road is closed if the work starts in January or February.
“Dawdling and dilly-dallying by the county council’s highways department has now put lives in Swaledale and Arkengarthdale in peril. It is simply not good enough, given the very serious consequences of their failure to deliver on their promise to make an autumn start on the road reconstruction.”
Managers at Reeth Medical Centre have emailed Coun Blackie to express their concerns over patients and staff being able to access the surgery as well as the delivery of medical supplies, while police officers have raised fears that motorists could be left stranded on the moorland routes without mobile phone coverage.
Coun Blackie is now calling for senior managers from the highways department at County Hall to attend a meeting he will chair at the CB Inn near Langthwaite in Arkengarthdale from 7pm on Thursday which will set out the proposed programme of repairs and attempt to allay the public’s concerns.
There will be four moorland routes accessible to motorists while the work is carried out on the A6108 and the B6270, although they reach heights of 2,000ft above sea level. While the exact start date of the work has yet to be confirmed, it is expected road closures spanning up to 12 weeks will have to be put in place.
A county council spokeswoman confirmed detailed geo-technical investigations have been carried out along the A6108 and the B6270 after it was discovered parts of the routes are in a poor condition due to the “effects of weather and geology”. A total of 11 different locations will need to be repaired through a combination of drainage, piling, earth works and resurfacing.
The spokeswoman added: “The authority intends to start the work as soon as possible which will continue through to 2014. Because the work will have to take place during winter months the county council will make every effort to ensure that diversion routes are properly gritted whenever necessary.”
It was announced in December that Yorkshire had been successful in its bid to host the opening two stages of the 2014 Tour and showcase the region to a global audience.
The Grand Départ is expected to attract two million spectators, bringing an estimated £100m boost. The route will set off from Leeds to Harrogate on July 5 before starting in York and finishing in Sheffield the following day. Part of the route will take in the Dales.