MP rejects doubts cast over A1 dualling in Northumberland

The A1 where it becomes single carriageway at Felton.
The A1 where it becomes single carriageway at Felton.
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A question mark over the dualling of the A1 has been rejected by Berwick MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan as ‘dangerous scaremongering’.

A Highways England review has identified 16 road projects which present a risk to value for money, some of which could be cancelled or delayed, according to a National Audit Office (NAO) report, released today.

The 16 projects under review, from a total of 112, have not been identified and, despite initial indications to the Gazette that the A1 was not affected, it transpires that these projects have not been revealed publicly.

Today, Highways England would not confirm or deny whether this would affect the A1 in Northumberland project, but a statement said: ‘There is no immediate need or plans to cancel schemes.’

It added: ‘Highways England is continuing to investigate options to improve the benefits and reduce the costs of schemes. This follows its normal processes of achieving value for money for the taxpayer which is required for all government spending on infrastructure projects.

‘This work may involve refining the scope and design of schemes and more time may be needed to assess them.’

Berwick MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan said ‘suggesting that a report which seeks to ensure best value for money in road projects equates a threat to the dualling of the A1 is not simply wrong, it is dangerous scaremongering’.

She added: “As many local people will know, the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, reiterated the Government’s support for the dualling of the A1 to Ellingham, as recently as last month, when he also expressed his support for my campaign to dual the A1 to the Scottish border, once the present scheme – which is already well under way – has been completed.”

According to the current timescales, work on dualling the two stretches of A1 between Morpeth and Felton, and Alnwick and Ellingham, would start in 2020, with the improvements north of Ellingham due to start next year.

The NAO report published today looked at the first Road Investment Strategy, which covers the five years between April 2015 and March 2020, and said that the speed with which it was put together ‘has created risks to deliverability, affordability and value for money’.

According to the report, Highways England has completed six projects on or ahead of schedule and has started construction on a further 19, with 16 planned to be on or ahead of schedule.

It is now reviewing the portfolio of projects to improve value for money and has so far identified 16 projects which present a risk to value for money; some of these may be cancelled or delayed.

There are also options to delay up to 19 to reduce the number of projects due to start in 2019/20 (54 of the 112 projects are currently scheduled to start in 2019/20).

The NAO has recommended that the Department for Transport (DfT) and Highways England should agree an updated delivery plan for the remainder of the road period, including a clear statement setting out the impact of this updated plan on any work undertaken in the next road period.

Mrs Trevelyan added: “The NAO investigates public spending and I work very closely with them as a member of the Public Accounts Select Committee. It was a report for the committee which has created this apparent concern about the future of the A1 dualling project.

“To clarify, the report has been created by the NAO for our committee’s inquiry into major road projects. The committee, with the help of the NAO, scrutinises public spending to ensure the best possible value for money for the taxpayer and to hold Government departments to account on how they run projects.

“The report in question looks into the way in which the Department for Transport and Highways England manages large-scale projects. It does NOT make recommendations that any such projects should be cancelled, nor is that within the NAO’s remit. In fact, having read the report cover-to-cover, there is no mention of the A1 or any specific large-scale project.”

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “The DfT and Highways England need to agree a more realistic and affordable plan if they are to provide optimal value from the Road Investment Strategy.

“Highways England has been working to address the risks to deliverability, affordability and value for money that were present in 2015, but we are now nearly two years into the five-year road investment period.

“Decisive action needs to be taken before the updated delivery plan is published in the summer if shortcomings in the current strategy are not to be carried over into future road-investment periods.”