How National Highways and partners used Project Speed to compile a robust DCO application for the £1.3bn A66 upgrade

National Highways, working with delivery partners Kier, Balfour Beatty and Keltbray, worked under Project Speed principles to collaboratively create a robust development consent order (DCO) application for the £1.3bn A66 North Trans-Pennine upgrade, the project manager told NCE.

Designed by an Amey-Arup integrated team from the preliminary stages, the A66 upgrade will see 29km of single-lane sections of the 80km stretch between the M6 and A1 made into a dual carriageway, while key junctions will be improved. It is a vital artery in east-west routing in the North, with a quarter of the traffic being freight – more than double the national average. It is also a dangerous road, with a high rate of serious accidents, including seven fatalities in the last four years.

For these reasons, upgrading the road is classed as a nationally significant infrastructure project and it has been selected as a pathfinding project for the government’s Project Speed programme. This has seen the construction time halved from an originally projected 10 years to a new goal of five years.

The Planning Inspectorate has accepted the DCO application for examination and will make its recommendation to the transport secretary by 29 August. The transport secretary will decide on whether to grant the DCO by 29 November.

If granted, National Highways and its partners are prepared to commence main works in spring 2024 with a view to completing in 2029.

Project Speed

In order to achieve the five year construction timeframe, the Project Speed ethos has had to be embedded in the project from the very earliest stages, according to National Highways A66 Northern Trans-Pennine project director Lee Hillyard. He says it’s required “a shift in behaviours and an appetite to do things quicker” from everyone at all levels, from the Treasury and Department for Transport, to those involved directly on the project, to the people who have to clean the offices after many late-night meetings.

“The driving factor to doing this in five years and moving through the DCO process with a more accelerated appetite is saving lives; the quicker the project is done, the more lives are saved,” Hillyard said. “That’s what it comes back to for everyone; we are really doing this to make an impact and we will be able to see that impact in six years time now, once we start getting this duelled and making it safer, more resilient and more reliable.”

Accelerating the scheme has also meant compiling an extra-large DCO application. “You can break down the scheme into individual components; it’s a 50 mile [80km] long scheme with eight schemes at separate geographic intervals across it,” Hillyard explained. “Historically you would have had separate DCOs, but in order to get a DCO through lighter, quicker, Project Speed and all that kind of stuff, we built it as one.”

He continued: “You can’t achieve the benefits of the scheme by doing individual components. It only really stacks up in government terms by doing it as one.”

The benefits

These benefits are focused around improving the resilience of the entire A66 route from Penrith on the M6 to Scotch Corner on the A1. This will make the road less susceptible to accidents, reducing their frequency and ensuring that the route can still operate when there is one.

This is particularly key for HGVs carrying freight along the route. Currently, any closure of the A66 has far-reaching impacts for the network. “When the road shuts down, HGV drivers at Calais and Dover [at the other end of the country] will get signed that the A66 is shut,” Hillyard said.

Locals are also greatly affected by any closure or tailback on the A66. For example, for people on the west of the Pennines, it is a crucial route to reach hospitals in Middlesborough or Newcastle.

Ensuring that the A66 stays open during the works is therefore equally important. “Most of the work is next to the existing carriageway, so the actual A66 will stay open throughout,” Hillyard said. “There will just be a few instances where we have to do the tie-in to the existing carriageway, but predominantly the road is built offline.” Working largely next to the road, rather than on it, will also facilitate the pace of the work, according to Hillyard.

Early collaboration

The tier 1 delivery integration partners (DIPs) Kier, Balfour Beatty, Keltbray (and formerly Costain), were brought onto the project by Hillyard “from day one” through National Highways’ Regional Delivery Partners (RDP) framework. They are working together in an enterprise arrangement.

“We chose the RDP framework to get them to work together under an enterprise ‘best for project’ kind of experiment” Hillyard explained. “We have a contractual clause under the [New Engineering Contract], which ties them together. They are tied together for pain-gain as well.”

This arrangement enabled the contractors to inform and assist with the DCO application from early stages, such as providing early construction advice and cost estimates. They also became involved early on with the stakeholders, interfacing directly with people in the area about potential disruption, compounds and lay down areas. It also allowed the contractors to start thinking early on about logistics, workforce, accommodation, skills and more.

“The delivery partners are working together on their procurement and category management strategy,” Hillyard said. “We have to work together through interfaces to reduce our carbon first and foremost.”

This is also true of materials. “We have had some quite robust conversations around where we get our materials from,” he said. “People have group rates, we have category management rates; we have all sorts of great incentives and we just have to make sure we continue choosing the best for project based on the geography, the availability, the supply and obviously the carbon factors.”


On the topic of carbon, Hillyard takes a macro view. “If we can make this route more reliable, we are by default putting less carbon into the atmosphere because cars will use less fuel, and the HGVs will use less fuel because the route is shorter [than alternatives].”

However, he also accepts there is an imperative to reduce carbon emissions during construction. “All of our delivery partners are incentivised to reduce our carbon footprint by 30%, so we are working on that now,” he said. “We have a carbon lead on the project who is tasked from National Highways’ perspective with working with the different partners to make that happen; it’s a key factor in our procurement and category management strategy.”

Practices are also being considered to reduce the carbon around the actual construction. Hillyard explains, for example, that they are considering buying buy six hydrogen-powered buses and making park and ride facilities at each end of the job to bus workers in, removing vehicles from the road.

What’s happening now

National Highways submitted its DCO application for the A66 upgrade on 29 May, giving the Planning Inspectorate until 29 August to make its recommendation. Transport secretary Mark Harper will then have until 29 November to decide whether to grant to the DCO application.

Despite the wait for the green light, work is still ongoing on the project. “We are well and truly ahead of the ground investigations for all the schemes,” Hillyard said.

RSK is currently carrying out ground investigations at all work sites on the scheme using innovative metal track matting, which Hillyard describes as “big metal sheets, like a posh Glastonbury”. This minimises the disruption for landowners on the route, which includes milk producers and farmers. “It takes a long time for a farmer to rotate his field to accommodate the disruption that we can cause,” Hillyard said. “This track matting and the easy access to GI surveys has reduced that, so that within three or four weeks of us being in there it kind of looks the same as it did before – all you’ve got is the borehole still there.”

The data from RSK’s works has already been informing the detailed designs for the DIPs, which are underway.

National Highways is also progressing on purchasing the land it needs for the project. “We’ve got an acquisition completion premium, so we can buy land for 20% more than market value in order to secure it and commence our statutory works earlier,” Hillyard explained.

Impact of Project Speed

It has been a tiring road to work with Project Speed to get the DCO application submitted, and there is still the intense construction period to come. However, Hillyard said that they have done a number of behavioural surveys on the workers and the majority said they would do it again.

“It is good to get on with a design, put it in a box and move on – have courage in the conviction. I think people did appreciate the focus,” he said. “It felt hard at times, but I think people really appreciated doing it, and a lot of people are proud of being involved as well. Everyone is generally proud of doing something different and trying to make the industry go faster.”

He believes that Project Speed, or initiatives like it, could be used on other major infrastructure schemes, but warns that it has to be the mindset from the very outset of the process. “Making changes during your design and DCO process is when you lose the time and benefit of Project Speed,” he said. “It’s great, but it’s got to go at the front end of the design.”

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One comment

  1. William John Gifford Haynes

    One could argue that taking a macro view of carbon would involve shifting the freight (that is being advised of problems at Dover) on to rail for the 350 + miles from Dover to Penrith and presumably onto Scotland…

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