Council officials have issued notices to begin surveys for a new bypass despite not agreeing a deal with landowners.

The proposal to reroute the A68 around Toft Hill, in County Durham, came after residents called for a bypass to reduce traffic, particularly large vehicles and HGVs travelling through the village. 

It is one of three schemes in the Bishop Auckland constituency to have benefited from £20m government levelling up cash. However, despite being awarded the funding in 2022, progress on the scheme has been slow. 

Durham County Council has been in talks with landowners about gaining access for surveys but haven’t come to an agreement. Plans show the A68 would cut through six fields between Toft Hill and West Auckland but the Whitaker family, who own part of the land, argue the bypass would cut their farm in half. 

But the council has now forced landowners to allow access under the Highways Act so it can carry out surveys. 

A report from the council’s head of highways, Mark Readman, reads: “Negotiations have been ongoing for some time with the owners and occupiers of the land. However, the negotiations have been unsuccessful and due to the limited window for completing the necessary surveys, access needs to be taken onto the land urgently due to the limited period in which ecology surveys can be undertaken. 

“As part of the proposal, it is necessary for the council to undertake a number of surveys including bat and bird surveys of the land in the area potentially surrounding the possible route of the bypass.”

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The exact route of the bypass will be revealed following the outcome of surveys and further work. The council says the lack of agreement so far is ‘regrettable’ but it must progress the scheme. 

“It is not anticipated that any permanent damage will be caused to the land and intrusion onto the land will be kept to a minimum,” Mr Readman added.

“It is therefore considered that these factors outweigh any interference with the human rights of the owners and or occupiers. It is therefore considered to be necessary and proportionate to enter onto the land.”