Residents and business owners have raised serious concerns over proposals to close a 7km stretch of the A1 in north Northumberland in both directions, 24 hours a day for two-and-a-half weeks.
At a public meeting hosted by one of the affected businesses this afternoon and attended by around 50 people, the fears were compounded by the fact that nobody who lives or runs businesses in the area seems to have been consulted and no-one who has sought further information has received any from Highways England.
The majority of people found out about the proposed carriageway renewal works via the statutory notice published in last week's Gazette, which says that works are expected to start at 8pm on Friday, March 2, for 17 days or until completed. The order will close the A1 northbound and southbound from 1.9km south of the Wandylaw junction to 100m north of the B1341 junction, where Adderstone Services is located.
The notice adds that traffic management will be in force 24 hours a day with 'suitably-signed alternative routes available at all times', while access will be maintained at all times to premises which are 'accessible from, and only from, the A1'.
Opening the meeting today at Purdy Lodge, Jim Davidson, whose family runs the hotel and the adjacent petrol station, highlighted the businesses the closure will impact, not least his own and its 36 members of staff, but also the likes of the pubs in Warenford and Lucker, the caravan site and various holiday properties. "I don't see why we shouldn't have been informed," he said.
One woman reported that she had been trying to find out about what was planned since earlier in January to no avail, while another asked: "What about us who live right on the edge of the A1?"
Another added: "There's also things like children going to school in Alnwick and children going to school in Berwick, lots of local people rely on buses. What about farmers trying to get into fields?"
Geoff O'Connell, a Belford resident and former parish councillor, said: "If there's a statutory requirement for consultation and they haven't done it, it cannot go ahead." He also pointed out that the closure could be 'putting lives at risk' given the impact it would have on getting patients to the emergency hospital in Cramlington within the critical first hour.
Another man said: "What I find inexplicable is the gross secrecy of Highways England. I have signed up to the alerts system because I'm interested in the dualling of the A1 and I have heard nothing about this."
Coun Guy Renner-Thompson, the area's ward member on Northumberland County Council, said: "It's very frustrating to say, but what we know is pretty much what you know. Highways England is responsible for the A1, but we (the county council) would expect to be asked about it. The first I knew was when it was in the paper. I can assure you that myself, Wendy Pattison, who's the next councillor along, and Glen Sanderson, the portfolio holder (for highways) are working hard to find out what's happening.
"Unless we make our voices heard, they will just think what they are doing is okay. If the work needs to be done, it needs to be done, but it should take place with the minimum amount of disruption."
Highways England’s David Wheatley, head of scheme delivery for Yorkshire & North East, said: "This major reconstruction work will mean better journeys for people on the A1 between Wandylaw and Warenford in Northumberland.
"We do understand the concerns raised, but can reassure everyone we have carefully considered the impact of the closures and that includes avoiding any public and school holidays, and the main tourist season.
"We have to close the road as the whole carriageway, not just the top layer, is extensively damaged and to fix it we are using a special paving machine which takes up more than one lane. If we did the repair work overnight, it would take almost three months to complete; but, by closing the road 24 hours a day, we can use day and night shifts to do the work in around two weeks, the shortest time possible. We apologise now for any inconvenience caused and are writing to 11,800 residents and businesses in the local area to keep them informed.”