A FORMER Ermysted's student who is the MP overseeing the large-scale Kex Gill realignment project - which got the go-ahead from the government this week - has said the £56 million secured for the work has been 'locked-in', acknowledging that is good news for those who see a change in government in 2024.

Roads Minister Richard Holden, who grew up in the neighbouring Ribble Valley - where his parents still live - and who attended grammar school in Skipton, said he was very familiar with the stretch of the A59 between Skipton and Blubberhouses which goes through Kex Gill and uses it regularly when visiting his parents.

Speaking on site at Kex Gill where he met with representatives from North Yorkshire County Council and Transport for the North, Mr Holden said: "There is no doubt this stretch of road needs realigning. It is twisty and narrow and there will always be the danger of further landslips. 

"The new route will provide a much safer road for all traffic and will provide a boost to the economy by securing the route. People will be more inclined to use the new road knowing it is speeder and safer."

Mr Holden added that the project was very much part of the government's levelling up process in connecting communities, providing better access and thus benefiting businesses across the North of England.

He also said the propject would be 'safe', even if a Labour government got in at the General Election next year.

"It (the funding allocated to the project) is locked-in," he said. "Work will be starting in April. Earth works machinery is already here, posts are in the ground. It is a two-year project but it will be well underway by the time of the next election so this is very much going to happen. It is happening," he said.

Completion is expected in May 2025.

Mr Holden said there had been some delay in securing funding from the government.

"Money has been tight, as it often is, and Covid will have had some effect too. There was some delay with compulsory purchases and there were also a few objections which had to be dealt with but that has been sorted and it's ready to go," he said.

The total cost is around £68 million, £56 million of which is coming from the Department of Transport and the remainder from North Yorkshire County Council's capital reserves. It is more than the average price for a brand new road which is currently around £12 million per kilometre.

The total stretch being created will be between four and five kilometres (almost three miles).

There have been around a dozen landslips along that stretch of the current road in the past 22 years resulting in road closures - over two months on one occasion - and long diversions for those wanting to get to Harrogate or York. 

Skipton and Ripon MP Julian Smith said he was delighted the project had been awarded full and final approval. For a number of years Mr Smith has worked with North Yorkshire County Council and has made numerous representations to government for the realignment of the landslip prone A59 at Kex Gill.

North Yorkshire County Council first mooted re-aligning of the route in 2016.

The council's executive member for highways and transport Cllr Keane Duncan said: “The Government’s final go-ahead is a landmark moment after seven years of hard work and means we will be able to embark on construction.

“The re-alignment of Kex Gill is undoubtedly one of the council’s most ambitious and most expensive ever highways projects.

“The A59 is a key east-west connection of national significance so it is vitally important that we secure the availability and safety of this route for our residents as well as visitor and commercial traffic.

“We are committed to completing the scheme as quickly as possible and in the most cost-effective way.”

Engineering company John Sisk & Son (Holdings) Ltd has been appointed for the project, the first project under the DfT’s Major Roads Networks upgrade fund to gain Full Business Case approval. The wider fund contains 88 highways projects nationwide totalling £3.5 billion.

John Sisk & Son was key in the delivery of the Royal Artillery Barracks shooting venues for the London 2012 Olympic Games. Crossrail's largest tunnelling scheme was also awarded as a joint venture between John Sisk & Son and Dragados. It was responsible for the construction of 23km twin bore tunnels running from Victoria Dock in the east to the new Crossrail Farrington station in Central London.

Contractors moved on site at Kex Gill earlier this month to clear the moorland to avoid the bird-nesting season. An estimated completion date for the work has been set for May 2025.

The A59 provides a vital east-west connection in North Yorkshire, linking Harrogate and Skipton and running across the North of England between junction 31 of the M6 and junction 47 of the A1(M).

Detailed work began in 2016 on developing options to address the issue of landslips and instability on the stretch of road at Kex Gill.

A total of 16 options were drawn up, and following extensive consultations with the public, the plans to re-align the road garnered overwhelming support with 90 per cent of respondents stating that the project needed to be carried out.

The preferred route, which was agreed by the county council’s executive in July 2018, was established following wide-ranging survey work to minimise the effects on the environment, as well as the impact on local communities and landowners.

The stretch of the A59 at Kex Gill runs through important habitats including a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Plans are in place to mitigate the impact on wildlife in the area such as barn owls, bats, nightjars, wild game, toads and badgers.

A section of the existing stretch of road will be retained for access to the gamekeeper’s house and as a bridleway. It will be downgraded to single width with passing places. The remaining section of the old A59 will be returned to grassland and heather.