Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling (CENTRE) with Nick Marriner and MP John Stephenson.
A visit to north Cumbria by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling was the “most positive” to date in finding a solution to improve transport links.
That was the view of long-standing campaigner and local councillor Nick Marriner who, over the years, has met with three transport ministers on Warwick Bridge to discuss potential options to take traffic away from the village.
Mr Grayling joined Carlisle MP John Stevenson for a tour of the A69 and A689 last week.
He was on a visit to Cumbria to announce £2.6m of funding for the A959 and A66 – but also wanted to take a look for himself at the roads east of Carlisle to understand the problems there.
Mr Marriner, county councillor for Wetheral and owner of Warwick Hall, said: “I was very pleased. We got a very positive response from him.
“It’s the third transport minister I have met on that bridge and while the other two were positive, this one was enthusiastic about doing something.”
For more than a decade campaigners have argued a by-pass should be installed around Warwick Bridge and the A69 should be dualled between Carlisle and Hexham.
The most common sense solution, Mr Marriner said, was to re-route the A69 along the A689.
“That road doesn’t go through any villages and is substantially improved already. The cost of a by-pass round Warwick Bridge and surrounding villages would just be astronomical and not good value for money.
“As far as the rest of the route is concerned it does go through some very sensitive areas.
“But it was indicated that if significant parts of the current A69 between Brampton and Hexham were dualled, or even got extra lanes, it would improve the journey time dramatically.”
Although no improvements to the A69 or A689 are scheduled between now and 2020, Mr Grayling said they were on his radar.
He said he was “very focused” on the next investment period and that they were already planning the next round of upgrades.
Underpinning the potential investment is the economic benefit to Carlisle, making it a transport hub for the north with connections to the north east, north west and Scotland.
Mr Grayling said the easier it is to get between the Carlisle and Newcastle, the more potential there is to unlock access of growth in the north of England.
Mr Stevenson explained that the visit was not about making judgments but about assessing the situation and the options going forward.
“I think what you would see is road improvements rather than the dualling of the A69. We do have to be realistic,” he said.
“Nevertheless I think they’re looking at where there are bottlenecks and difficulties and clearly Warwick Bridge is one of them.
“Whether they would do something on the A689 or the existing road is something the department technicians and engineers would have to assess.”
John Mallinson, county councillor for Houghton and Irthington, which covers both roads, was pleased Mr Stevenson had got it on the transport minister’s agenda.
“We need to get it into the next roads programme [2020 – 2025]. We welcome it but we need to keep the pressure up for a solution for the A69,” he said.
“Historically, there has always been a desire for a by-pass for Warwick Bridge and I think that’s an idea we could support, although I’m aware there are other suggestions. It’s unacceptable really that a trunk road of the importance of the A69 has to go through a place like Warwick Bridge.”