Today marks two years since the then Prime Minister came to north Northumberland to announce £290million to dual and improve the A1.
On December 1, 2014, David Cameron told the Gazette: “I have made it clear to the Highways Agency (now Highways England) that they can start spending today on the preparations necessary. They believe they will be able to get this started during the next Parliament (2015 to 2020).
“On the improvements north of Ellingham, they may be able to get started faster in terms of overtaking lanes.
“The work starts now, the money’s available now and they can get moving from today.”
In our editorial leader that week, we said that it would be naïve to ignore the fact that a General Election was less than six months away and that there had been a number of promises before. However, we also pointed out that the scheme seemed to have gone further than ever before, with the commitment of £290million a major achievement.
This time last year, we reflected on the first year since the pledge, saying that steps seemed to have been made in the right direction with traffic surveys taking place in July 2015.
Further surveys and consultation with major stakeholders were happening and Highways England hoped to have finalised routes and agreement from landowners within the next nine months, enabling public consultation events to take place in autumn 2016. Those consultation events have just taken place, unveiling three detailed options for dualling from Morpeth to Felton, just one option for the Alnwick to Ellingham section and amended proposals for the improvements further north to incorporate some of the previous feedback.
At the time of the original announcement and last December, there was plenty of scepticism as to whether the scheme was going to go ahead at all. That seems to have dissipated a little, being replaced by a desire for Highways England to ‘get on with it’.
Clearly, a road infrastructure project of this scale doesn’t happen overnight and the aim now is to make recommendations on the preferred route for the dualling scheme in the spring, with the application for a Development Consent Order being submitted in the autumn/winter of 2017/18.
A decision from the Secretary of State would be expected in 2018/19. In terms of the real work, the goal is still to start construction on the north of Ellingham enhancements in 2018 and the dualling in 2020, with the new road opening in 2023.
While that remains seven years off, it also remains in line with what we were told in 2015 and, indeed, what Mr Cameron said two years ago when he announced the scheme.