Failure to dual A64 is holding back tourist trade to Scarborough, Whitby and Filey: Andrew Vine

Of the many congested routes that can make driving around Yorkshire such a trial, none is so reliably guaranteed to frustrate as the A64.

Every weekend on our principal route from West Yorkshire to the coast is the same – cars full of families either stationary or crawling along, their faces glum as the planned trip to the seaside ticks away in a traffic jam instead.

We all know the bottlenecks only too well, such as the Hopgrove roundabout east of York, where tailbacks can stretch a couple of miles almost to the junction of the A166 to Bridlington.

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And this has been going on for decades. More than 40 years ago, when I worked in Scarborough, owners of businesses and civic leaders had already been complaining bitterly for years that the A64 was holding the town back and putting off people from visiting.

Traffic queueing on the A64 has been a problem for decades.Traffic queueing on the A64 has been a problem for decades.
Traffic queueing on the A64 has been a problem for decades.

They are still complaining, and with every justification. Governments have come and gone over the course of all those years, each making sympathetic noises in response to the campaigns and business cases put forward for upgrading the A64 to a dual carriageway along its entire length and then doing next to nothing about it.

We’re due another instalment in this longest-running of Yorkshire transport sagas in the coming weeks, with the Department of Transport deciding whether the A64 will receive £300m for improvements.

Given the state of the Government’s finances, it is far from certain we will get the money. Even if we do, it won’t be anything like enough, because this is not a plan to dual all of the A64, which is the only answer to its problems.

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The money would ease some of the congestion, but will only move bottlenecks to different places wherever dualled stretches narrow to a single carriageway.

At the end of last month, Thirsk and Malton MP and business minister Kevin Hollinrake caused some sharp intakes of breath by describing the notion of dualling the A64 to Malton as a “pipe dream”, adding that a likely cost of more than £500m was hard to justify on business grounds.

In fairness to Mr Hollinrake, he continues to press for improvements and what he said is an accurate summary of the seemingly intractable problem that years of negotiation and even pleading have failed to resolve.

This question of the business case is the same obstacle campaigners for dualling have been running up against for decades. The cost-benefit analysis doesn’t add up for the bean-counters in London.

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Or, to put it another way, the economy of the Yorkshire coast isn’t worth investing in.

That ignores the truth of the argument put forward for so long – unless dualling happens, the coast’s economy will continue to under-perform.

The A64 is of is of critical importance to Scarborough, Whitby and Filey in bolstering their tourist trade and attracting new investment.

In its current state – and even with limited improvements – it undoubtedly holds them back. That is a dreadful state of affairs given that the three resorts are jewels in the crown of Yorkshire’s tourism economy which is so important to our county.

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The cost-benefit analysis long relied on by successive governments is flawed because it fails to take account of the additional income and new jobs that the coast could generate if only it had the transport links it deserved.

It isn’t only about tourism, but other industries as well. There is no reason why companies shouldn’t establish themselves at the coast, provided their goods and people aren’t snarled up in traffic on a road which long ago ceased to have the capacity to cope with the demands on it.

What has made frustrations about the A64 especially galling in recent years is that it would have been a textbook example of levelling-up in action.

A central plank of the policy was to grow the economy by improving infrastructure. Dual the A64 and the benefits will follow, just as campaigners have been insisting for so many years.

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But levelling-up failed to deliver, so the businesses and town halls will have to fight on, maybe for a slice of the £36bn promised for transport schemes that was freed by the cancellation of the northern leg of HS2.

Their chances of finally seeing the road become a dual carriageway may be given a boost with the election of North Yorkshire’s first mayor next month, who will undoubtedly view the welfare of the coast’s economy as a key priority.

If Labour wins the general election, the campaigners will at least get a fresh hearing. The party is on record as wanting to boost the fortunes of coastal towns, so might be receptive.

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