A PETITION has been launched by campaigners in neighbouring villages who want to put the brakes on plans for a new road.

Durham County Council and MP Dehenna Davison have applied for £20m from the Government’s Levelling Up Fund for three projects across the Bishop Auckland constituency.

If successful, £10.8m would go on re-routing the A68 to bypass Toft Hill, and the rest on reopening the historic Grade II* listed Whorlton Bridge in Teesdale, which is currently shut because it is structurally unsafe, and towards a £15m scheme at Locomotion in Shildon.

For years, community leaders, residents and businesses have agreed an A68 bypass is needed to alleviate the volume of traffic, particularly HGVs, passing through Toft Hill.

But there are concerns about the proposed route – from a new roundabout above the Sportsman pub, across fields to Hartbrigg Lane and to a second roundabout at Etherley Bank, Spring Gardens.

Objectors say the road would cut the top of Toft Hill adrift and fail to address traffic concerns in West Auckland, where people want it to join Oakley roundabout and an existing bypass.

A petition calling for the bypass plan to be shelved until all the communities affected are consulted has been launched at change.org and signatures will be collected door-to-door in the coming weeks.

Durham County Councillor for West Auckland, Rob Yorke, said: “Everyone says a bypass is needed, we are saying is ‘can we take stock and make sure we get it right first time?’

“The route proposed is half a bypass, which doesn’t solve half the problem.

“It would dissect the village of Toft Hill, failing to solve anything for the houses at the very top of the village, and doing nothing at all for the residents, businesses and three schools in West Auckland.

“What we want is to slow down, for the bid to be withdrawn to allow proper consultation.

“If there’s overwhelming support for a different route, for a proper bypass from the A68 Cafe above Toft Hill down to the Oakley roundabout at West Auckland, rather than a link road, then a new bid could be submitted at the next opportunity.

“LUF bids can be up to £50m so why not do the job right in the first place for the communities of West Auckland, St Helen’s, Hummerbeck, Spring Gardens and Toft Hill? It wouldn’t need to delay the work at Locomotion and Whorlton.”

Dave Wafer, the council’s head of transport and contract services, said: “The current plans and route of the Toft Hill Bypass have remained unchanged over the past 20 years.

“Whilst the potential to fund this type of project has changed throughout that time period, the desire of local people to remove traffic travelling through the village has not.

“The issues caused by traffic, and especially HGVs, have been raised by local members, Etherley Parish Council, local MPs and local residents on a significant number of occasions.

“Whilst the construction of a bypass will not have any negative implications for people in West Auckland, we would be happy to consult fully with residents and West Auckland Parish Council to look at options to address current traffic concerns should the bid to the Levelling Up Fund be successful.”

Ms Davison, who with other MPs has called for the A68 to be made part of the UK’s strategic road network so issues can be addressed along the whole route, has previously said that if the Toft Hill bypass is built, the next priority will be to look at West Auckland.

She said: “A Toft Hill Bypass is desperately needed to improve traffic and air pollution, and to improve safety for residents. Following this, the West Auckland Bypass must be completed urgently to finish the project started decades ago and ensure we have the roads we need to move into the future.”

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