Date: Friday 19th October 2007
Archie Robertson chats to head teacher of Temple Sowerby school Barabara Key.
Archie Robertson chats to head teacher of Temple Sowerby school Barabara Key.

THE decades-long campaign by residents of Temple Sowerby to rid their village of the thunder of heavy traffic finally paid off this week with the opening of the new A66 bypass on Thursday.

The £39.6 million three-mile stretch of dual carriageway was finally completed, ahead of schedule, this week. It will channel 15,000 vehicles per day away from the village, cutting traffic flow by 95 per cent.

The battle for a bypass began back in the 1960s, since when several schemes have been proposed and then scrapped, leaving campaigners high and dry time after time.

In 1974, Temple Sowerby was the first village to take part in a groundbreaking move to seek public views on road schemes. Villagers flocked to the public hall to look at a number of possible routes for the proposed new road with traffic volume at 9,000 vehicles a day through the village even in the early 1970s, hopes were high that the bypass would not be long in coming.

As a result of public spending cuts in 1981, many road building schemes were suspended, and the following year feelings in the village ran high over the proposed closure of Temple Sowerby’s primary school.

Villagers took to the highway in a convoy of pushchairs, prams and parents, protesting that the closure would mean exposing pupils to the perils of walking to and from Kirkby Thore school along the A66.

In 1983 hopes were dashed, as plans for the Temple Sowerby bypass were scrapped for cost-cutting reasons, and a series of “small improvements” proposed instead.

Villagers were shocked and disappointed by the move, which came around the same time as an elderly man was knocked down and killed on the road, as well as a string of minor accidents.

A series of increasingly vocal protests followed as motorists continued to ignore the 40mph speed limit through the village and traffic noise became a constant intrusion on the lives of residents.

It took two years before a scheme to bypass the village finally got the thumbs up from the Department of Transport, but celebrations proved premature, as three years later, in 1988, Penrith and the Border MP David Maclean had to remind government of its commitment, when doubts were once again raised about the scheme on economic grounds.

A survey carried out in the late 1980s revealed that traffic volume had risen by 40 per cent. in five years to 10,500 vehicles passing through the village each day.

The twists and turns in this seemingly endless saga continued in 1990, when the then transport secretary, Cecil Parkinson, announced a £3.8 million, 2.3 mile bypass scheme, with a preferred route to be announced in autumn the following year.

This announcement was greeted with cautious optimism by campaigners, the chairman of the village bypass committee, Dr. Gavin Young, stating: “Until we actually see the bulldozers moving the earth, it is hard to believe, although it is encouraging.”

A year later campaigners’ anger and frustration was mounting, as a Kirkby Stephen man was killed in a two-vehicle pile-up and hours later, on the same stretch of road, firefighters battled to free motorists from another two-car smash.

Feelings ran high at a public meeting late in 1991, with dismay and anger at continued delays.

A Government suggestion that traffic calming might be a possible solution to Temple Sowerby’s problems came on the same day as another road death a 34-year-old man killed in ahead-on collision at the notorious accident blackspot at Culgaith road ends.

Police statistics for the time, show that, between 1990 and 1992, 11 people were killed on the A66 between Penrith and Stainmore, with 29 serious crashes and 91 slight accidents in the same period.

Villagers were incredulous in 1993 when the Government announced that plans for a bypass would be further delayed by the fact that part of the proposed route crossed a Site of Special Scientific Interest, known as The Moss.

Campaigners were quick to point out that this fact had been known about by planners for years.

In the same year the A66 and its problems brought personal tragedy to one of the leading bypass campaigners and his family. James Young, the 13-year-old son of campaigner Dr. Gavin Young and his wife, Venetia, was hit by a heavy goods vehicle when riding his bicycle on the A66 near his home.

James suffered critical head injuries and spent 10 months in hospital following the accident which left him with permanent physical damage.

Just a month later, plans for a £10 million stretch of dual carriageway bypassing the village were unveiled by the Department of Transport and a three-day exhibition of the proposed route laid on at the village hall.

The euphoria that greeted these developments was tempered in October that same year, when a group of 18 children, travelling by coach from their school at Kirkby Thore to Penrith for a swimming lesson, were involved in a three-vehicle pile up at Culgaith road ends.

All escaped shaken, but uninjured, from the crash, which once again served to highlight the potentially deadly nature of the A66.

When, in 1994, the road was rated a “priority two” scheme by the DoT, campaigners were reaching the end of their tether and accused the Government of “dishonesty”, Dr. Young expressing “anger and horror” at the move.

That same year a route was published, but no date set for the start of work, and the move coincided with another lorry crash.

Villager Mrs. Lynn Barker commented at the time that she had been taking part in protests over the road since her, now older, children were small. “How many deaths do there have to be before they do anything?” she asked.

Moves to improve the road layout at Culgaith road ends a year later were greeted with angry protest by bypass campaigners, who described it as a “face-saving publicity stunt”, whilst the bypass remained a “pipedream”.

The national press reported cost over-runs, political pressure and administrative chaos at government level, resulting in many road schemes across the country being put on ice. The cost of the bypass had by now risen to an estimated £15.5 million, but was no closer to construction.

It was a despondent group of villagers who met with roads minister John Watts in 1996, as he conducted a fact-finding tour of the A66 and saw for himself the plight of Temple Sowerby.

Later that same year, the Temple Sowerby bypass was added to the Government’s trunk road scheme, but it was 2000 before the bypass found a place in the 10-year transport plan, one of six major trunk road schemes targeted by the Highways Agency.

Sheer delight greeted the announcement in 2002 that the £18.5 million scheme was finally to get the go ahead, with a start date set for 2004-05.

By now almost 13,000 vehicles were travelling through the centre of Temple Sowerby each and every day, making resident’s lives a misery.

Twelve days were set aside for a public inquiry, aimed at addressing concerns over the proposed route. Addressing the inspector leading the inquiry, Dr. Young made an emotional plea for a bypass which would take away “the perpetual chance of violence, death and injury” from the midst of the community.

Villagers might have thought that it was the end of a long and taxing journey when the inspector recommended that the bypass be built. However, high spirits evaporated when promised construction work failed to materialise and more protests were mounted, with traffic being brought to a standstill.

Further frustration and delays followed, with the cash for construction work finally being released by the Government late in 2004 as part of a £700 million investment in transport schemes.

Advance work began early the next year, with the contract awarded to Hertfordshire-based Stanska Construction. Still all was not plain sailing as Stanska protested that it could not complete the work within the proposed £23 million budget. Costs soared to nearly £40 million, but the additional cash was put up by the Government.

Thursday finally saw the fruits of half-a-lifetime of tireless campaigning by a determined group of villagers who hope now to see peace restored to their community.