A PUBLIC inquiry may have to be held before a multi-million pound improvement scheme can go ahead on a dangerous road.

If an inquiry is held, the Highways Agency expects work on safety improvements to begin next year on the A66 outside the village of Long Newton, near Stockton.

The £6m-plus dual carriageway interchange will replace cross-over points.

A Government spokesman said objections were being reviewed to see if an inquiry was necessary.

He said: "If there is no public inquiry, work could start sooner than 2004. I think the feeling is it could well go to public inquiry."

There were 35 serious crashes on the A66 outside Long Newton between 1987 and 1992. In 1985, seven people were killed in seven months on the dual carriageway from Sadberge to Long Newton and Elton.

Residents welcomed Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's announcement, in April 2001, that improvements would go ahead. But the announcement was not backed up with funding.