Could tolls be the answer to A1 dualling?

A DUAL carriageway could finally be built between Morpeth and Berwick, business chiefs have revealed – but you would have to pay a toll every time you used it.

The suggestion has come from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), which has identified the 50-mile stretch through north Northumberland as a prime candidate for privately-funded widening, alongside a number of other potential schemes across England.

But the idea has been greeted with caution by local MP Sir Alan Beith, who said: “I do not think that a toll road is the answer to dualling the A1 because the road provides access to many local places and there is no alternative route to connect these places.

“I am continuing to press the case for dualling the A1 as a part of the National Road Strategy.”

A spokesman for the Department for Transport also said no discussions had taken place about a toll scheme linked to A1 redevelopment, but said that advice had been given to the Dual the A1 campaign group about proving an economic case for infrastructure investment.

Campaign director Anne-Marie Trevelyan said any bid to secure private finance for road improvements would have to be considered very carefully in conjunction with other suggested tolling schemes elsewhere in the UK.

“My key concern would be the economic impact if this stretch of the A1 became a toll road,” she said. “Unless the M6 was also included, there is a very real chance that economic traffic between here and Scotland would completely bypass the North East.

“There is also the fact that this region is one of the poorest in terms of income and that there is a lack of alternative routes to avoid paying tolls. It would need to be very carefully thought through.”

Belford parish councillor Geoff O’Connell said the impact of a privately-operated A1 on rural villages like his own would be ‘crippling’.

“It is a fact that household incomes, particularly in the north end of the county, are among the lowest in the UK, often below the national poverty line,” he said. “Although we are crying out for improvements to the A1, privatising the road is not the way to go. This is either a road of national strategic importance, or it isn’t.

“If it is, then funds should be dedicated to it by the Government.

“The only way a toll road would be acceptable would be if there was an exemption for local residents to use it free of charge.”

Emma Boon, campaign director from the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said motorists were already being hit hard in the pocket by soaring fuel costs and taxation.

“Motorists already pay more than their fair share for the cost of road transport, green gas emissions via fuel duty and vehicle excise duty,” she said. “Charging drivers to travel along the A1 will mean those in rural areas are pushed even harder.

“Road pricing is hugely expensive, both to implement and to run annually; if the toll is going to offer a return to private investors and the Treasury that will again push up costs to motorists.

“The major issue of congestion could be alleviated if drivers were offered more and better roads for all the tax they pay.”

*Dual the A1 is hosting a meeting for businesses to discuss the economic arguments for dualling and sent out to transport ministers and the Chancellor of the Exchequer why a dualled A1 would be worth the investment for the future economic growth of the North East.

It takes place on Monday, March 12 from 6pm to 8pm at the Parish Hall of St Michaels Church at Walkergate, Alnwick.

Anyone who can’t attend is asked to complete a short survey about the impact of a dualled A1 on businesses, which can be found at www.surveymonkey.com/alnwickbusinessview