Handbrake on, engine off and arms folded waiting for the queue of traffic just west of Malton to start moving again. Still, it offered the opportunity to admire the scenery, with the Howardian Hills visible in the distance.
Anyone heading for Scarborough will know this scenario. On a week when the schools are on holiday and the sun shines, the A64 becomes overwhelmed with traffic, the pinch points coming where dual carriageway gives way to single and everything backs up.
Regrettably, last week’s announcement by Highways England that it intends to spend £8m on improvements to the road won’t do much to solve the problems, welcome though any investment undoubtedly is.
What it represents is a tinkering around the edges whilst failing to tackle the real issue – that this arterial route to one of Britain’s most popular seaside resorts needs to have real money spent on making it dual carriageway all the way.
This isn’t anything like a new problem. As a trainee reporter in Scarborough nearly 40 years ago, I was writing stories about calls by business leaders for the A64 to be upgraded.
Margaret Thatcher, in power and in her pomp, didn’t listen to those calls, even though she and the Conservatives regularly decamped to Scarborough for party conferences, and at least some of the delegates had first-hand knowledge of the road’s bottlenecks.
Nobody much else has listened across the course of four decades since then either, despite the best efforts of MPs and councils along the route. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the Conservatives, in office for the bulk of that period, have taken the coast for granted.
There has been little need to woo voters there by investing, unlike the way that the current Government is courting traditionally Labour seats in the North East with spending to tempt them into the Tory fold.
And so the A64 intermittently gets some money spent on it, but not enough and on nothing like the ambitious scale it needs or the coastal economy to which it is so vital deserves.
At the weekend, Thirsk and Malton MP Kevin Hollinrake spoke of his hopes that the Government will agree in about three years’ time to make the six miles from the Hopgrove roundabout to Barton-le-Willows dual carriageway, which might happen by the end of this decade.
Let’s hope he’s right, but it’s far from certain to happen because the plan will be competing with other road-building schemes for funding.
Even if it does, at the rate of dualling a few miles every 10 years, the A64 is going to remain hopelessly overloaded with traffic for decades to come.
There can be no doubt that the bottlenecks and hold-ups are putting the brakes of the economy of North Yorkshire, and not only in regard to tourism. Transport is central to any company’s decision to move to an area, whether that means its employees getting to work on time, or moving raw materials and goods in and out.
It is difficult to envisage firms deciding to set up alongside a route that is characterised by hold-ups throughout the year which only grow worse during the peak summer weeks when holidaymakers head for the seaside.
The economic case for making the entire length of the A64 dual carriageway has been compelling ever since Thatcher’s time, and if anything, there is an even greater need for it to happen now than when she was in office.
No other premier league seaside resort – not Blackpool, not Brighton – is as badly served by its main road in as Scarborough. If, as seems perfectly possible, one long-term consequence of the pandemic is to make more people decide to take their main holidays in Britain, that could see the Yorkshire coastline losing out on business to resorts which are easier to reach by car.
We can’t afford to be put at that sort of disadvantage. Dualling the A64 would not be cheap, since all the villages east of Malton need to be bypassed, but in the long run the economic benefits promise to make the investment worth every penny.
Besides boosting the coastline, it would make the entire length of the road more attractive to businesses – or public sector organisations – considering a move to Yorkshire.
Everybody wins from giving our coastline the A64 it should have had decades ago, and that accords perfectly with Boris Johnson’s oft-proclaimed levelling up agenda.
The time is right for a concerted push to make the Government see the sense of drawing up a comprehensive plan – and timescale – for transforming the A64 and, potentially, the fortunes of the people who rely on the income it brings. We’ve been stuck in traffic for far too long.
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