MOTORISTS on the A64 between York and Tadcaster will have the best possible Christmas present - the closure of Bilbrough Top gap.

The notoriously dangerous gap in the dual carriageway central reservation will shut next Monday.

But a campaigning local councillor said today the gap should have been closed weeks ago, with the delay allowing more accidents to happen.

Numerous fatal and serious injury crashes have occurred at Bilbrough Top in recent years, involving vehicles passing through the gap and being struck by other vehicles coming along the carriageway.

The lengthy Evening Press campaign for the gap to shut ended in victory earlier this autumn, when the Government approved an £11.3 million project to build a flyover.

Contractors will move on to the site in early January to begin preparatory work, with the main construction project starting in early February. The flyover, which will involve widening and straightening of the dual carriageway as well as the provision of a safe crossing for local traffic, is set to be completed by May 2005.

Highways Agency project manager Lynne Biddles said the gap would close slightly before construction work began, because the agency was aware of concerns about the dangers it poses and of demands for it to shut as soon as possible.

She said diversion signs had been prepared, with motorists wanting to cross the dual carriageway being sent on a four-mile round journey to use existing flyovers at Tadcaster or Copmanthorpe.

The flyover would give drivers a much safer crossing in the longer term.

She said the construction project had been awarded to Birse Civils Ltd, which had a regional office near Tadcaster.

A woman was injured in an accident at Bilbrough Top last week and Selby District Councillor Brian Percival said today the gap should have been shut weeks before now.

"Why has it taken until this time to close it? The works don't start until January 5, and they have brought forward the closing of the gap before then anyway.

"There was a crash on that road just last week that was near fatal, and I believe it really could have been prevented if they had just moved quicker," he said.

"It's incredible. Apparently they have been delayed because they hadn't painted the signs in time."

But the agency insisted the gap could not have closed any sooner than December 22, as this would have required the publication of separate traffic orders which might have necessitated a public inquiry.

Updated: 10:41 Monday, December 15, 2003