THE Government is under pressure to deliver after promising a £263m improvement package for the A1 through North Yorkshire.

The project to upgrade a 29-mile stretch of the road was announced last week by the Department of Transport in an attempt to cut congestion and improve road safety.

But the start date of 2006 disappointed many.

The Automobile Association said it wanted to see work under way before that date. Spokeswoman Denise Raven said: "We cannot understand why the Government says it will be another four years before work begins.

"Public consultation was held and draft orders published before A1 improvements were shelved in 1995. All that should remain is a public inquiry and that should not take four years. We will be pushing as hard as we can for a speedier start."

Farmers, archaeologists and cyclists have all vowed to keep a close watch on the development.

National Farmers' Union spokesman Rob Simpson said: "Farmers need access to their land and we want to make sure that need is maintained.

"When the existing stretch of motorway between Walshford and Dishforth was constructed, it included the necessary underpasses and bridges, and we would hope similar standards will apply."

English Heritage was playing down fears the new road could herald the demise of historical sites along the route.

Bulldozers effectively flattened the remains of a Roman settlement on the edge of Catterick when dual carriageway was built in the Fifties.

But regional director John Hinchliffe said laws had been introduced since to ensure there could be no repeat.

Paul Hepworth, spokesman for North Yorkshire members of national cycling campaign group CTC, urged the Highways Agency to ensure there would be provision for non-motorised travellers wishing to cross major roads safely.

Explaining the 2006 start date, a Highways Agency spokeswoman said: "A lot has changed since an upgrade of the A1 was dropped from Government policy seven years ago.

"Although there are bound to be some elements we can carry forward, it isn't a matter of lifting the designs we had in 1995 off the shelf and starting from there.

"Some stretches will have to be advertised again, there will be some public consultation and possibly a public inquiry. It is in everyone's interests the process is carried out correctly," she said.