Plans for a bypass at Camelford took a step closer today but Cornwall Council’s portfolio holder for economy warned that the cost of the scheme — which has trebled — had grown almost out of control, so much so that the risk to the council “frightened” him.

The A39 Atlantic Highway: Camelford bypass project comprises a 4km long bypass which will significantly improve journey times and remove around 80 per cent of through-traffic from Camelford high street, which would be supported by complementary town centre measures.

The council’s portfolio holder for transport Cllr Richards Williams-Pears said “The scheme presents an opportunity to deliver a long-held aspiration for the local community.”

The original business case was submitted back in 2021 and had a cost estimate of £48.4-million which included a £6.59-million council contribution which was approved by the Cabinet in 2019.

More robust estimates of the construction figures have now been made and allowances calculated for risk, inflation, project fees and other contingencies, meaning current scheme estimate has more than trebled to £146.625-million, comprising a base cost of £88.5-million plus an allowance of £29.13-million for client risk, £24-million for inflation and a further £4.7-million for future maintenance.

It’s classed as being in the “poor value for money” criteria defined by the Government HM Treasury Green Book. “Nevertheless, this is an enhanced strategic case with strong local support,” added Cllr Williams-Pears.

If approved by the Department for Transport (DfT), the council will be liable to meet 33 per cent of the scheme development costs. Based on the current estimate this would amount to an additional £2.62-million. Including the spend to date that would bring Cornwall Council’s total contribution to about £5.6-million.

While supporting the scheme, portfolio holder for economy Cllr Louis Gardener said he had to highlight the way the project had grown “almost out of all control really frightens me”.

He added: “To come up with an initial price of £40-million and we’re now into £147-million and the risk that exposes this council to potentially is absolutely huge; three times the risk we’re exposed to on a major project like the Mid Cornwall Metro – probably larger than any risk this council has ever handled before.

“We as a Cabinet and as a council need to be mindful as this proceeds how we’re monitoring it because it frightens me.”

Other councillors believed that it would benefit the people of north Cornwall and should be backed by the Cabinet and full council.

Cllr Carol Mould, who seconded the recommendations to approve the business plan, said: “The value of this bypass be it only two and a half miles in old money and the benefit that that actually brings to Camelford and the rurality of that part of north Cornwall [is huge]. The wellbeing of Camelford, and the clean air, can only be enhanced by this.

“The bypass in Wadebridge made such a difference to that town and it made Wadebridge a better town for it, so I wouldn’t want the reasons behind this to be lost.”

Cllr Barry Jordan added: “I would like to dispel the myth that this is just about Camelford. It’s much, much wider. It includes all the little villages around as far down as Wadebridge. I’m asking Cabinet to support this and throw it back to central government to help the people of north Cornwall.”

The Cabinet agreed to back the new amended outline business case for the A39 Atlantic Highway: Camelford bypass.

Key dates if approved by the DfT are planning permission by spring 2026, full business case submitted to the Government in spring 2028, construction starting in late summer 2028 with the bypass open by 2030.

Following the announcement, Scott Mann, Conservative MP for North Cornwall, said: “As Member of Parliament for North Cornwall it is my responsibility to ensure that schemes like Camelford are given proper consideration in Westminster, and we are now closer than ever before to having this scheme realised; this is why significant levels of funding were redistributed from the cancelled HS2 project.

“I have felt that some at County Hall have been opposed to the Camelford scheme, as I believe there is a culture of thinking that prefers to see funding diverted to areas in West and Mid-Cornwall.

“With the Camelford scheme, County Hall has baked in over £50-million of ‘risk cost’ for the project. This is despite the Government offering to cover 99 per cent of the funding, meaning Cornwall Council’s spend on the project cost is only due to be £2.62-million — which accounts for 1.5 per cent.

“Historically, with other schemes they have signed off, they are obligated to fund around 10 to 15 per cent. The Mid-Cornwall Metro initiative, for example, has a Cornwall Council funding commitment of 12 per cent. If Cllr Gardner is feeling frightened by the Camelford bypass project perhaps it would be a good time to reassess all the schemes currently on the books at County Hall— based on his new risk profile.

“Contrary to what Cllr Gardner has suggested, the Council have taken an extremely risk-averse approach, factoring several tens of millions of pounds worth of risk, contingencies, and potential inflation, on top of the actual projected cost of building the bypass. This approach safeguards Cornish taxpayers and ensures that the government should end up covering all the costs — and the final spend is unlikely to be anywhere near as high as the headline figure.

“I have said on many occasions that Cornwall Council has an opportunity to dramatically boost air quality and unlock the huge potential of Camelford and its surrounding area – this is the case which I have continually made to government, and it’s an aspiration that successive Ministers in the Department for Transport have agreed with. This is why, despite the pandemic and the cost of living, this government continues to back the Camelford Bypass. I am pleased, therefore, that the cabinet unanimously signed off on the project.”