Coalition squabble over A1

The single-carriageway stretch of the A1 to the south of Felton.
The single-carriageway stretch of the A1 to the south of Felton.

Tories and Lib Dems in north Northumberland are both trying to claim credit for their parties following the Prime Minister’s pledge that the A1 will be upgraded.

On Monday, after David Cameron’s speech, Liberal Democrat MP Sir Alan Beith said: “I am delighted that the Prime Minister is backing the plans made by Danny Alexander and Liberal Democrats to deliver investment into the A1 north of Newcastle. It is only because of the Liberal Democrats and the constant campaign over decades that this has been kept on the Government’s agenda.

“In Northumberland, we will not forget that in 1992 the Conservative Transport Minister promised to dual the road. The Conservatives broke their promise then and it is down to the Liberal Democrats to make sure that this Coalition commitment turns into work on the ground to improve the road.

“I have campaigned over many years for upgrades to the A1 know what a long battle we are fighting and with severe pressure on the country’s finances we need to keep up the pressure on the Government to get the improvements we want.”

Fellow Lib Dem Julie Pörksen, who is bidding to be Sir Alan successor, added: “Now the A1 north of Newcastle has been recognised as a route of major strategic importance to the country, the Liberal Democrats are keeping up the pressure for a meaningful announcement in this year’s Autumn Statement – we don’t want objectives, we want a detailed plan. The most congested part of the route is the Morpeth to Felton stretch which would bring clear benefits if dualling were put in place.”

Meanwhile Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate Anne-Marie Trevelyan said: “I am delighted at this statement of intent by the Prime Minister to make this major infrastructure investment which will provide a huge boost to the local economy and support jobs. I will continue to press the case with colleagues for the full dualling option for the A1 ahead of the Autumn Statement.

“When I spoke to the Chancellor, he explained to me his determination and personal commitment to bridge the gap between the north and south and to build a northern powerhouse. As someone who is standing for the most northerly seat in the country and who has been campaigning for years to address these inequalities, this is fantastic to hear”.

A spokesman for the Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, added: “Anne-Marie Trevelayn has done a great job in making the case for dualling the A1. After 41 years in Parliament, it is a bit late for Alan Beith and the Liberal Democrats to start claiming credit for this significant infrastructure development.”

It follows another row over the apparent ‘leaking’ of information over the possible costs of dualling the road.

On Monday, November 3, the Gazette reported that work to dual the A1 is at least ‘four to five years away’.

Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Berwick, Julie Porksen, who attended the meeting, said: “The most heavily used section of the single-carriageway A1 is the Morpeth to Felton stretch and dualling the remaining eight miles here would cost between £160 and £260million. Carrying on the dualling up to Ellingham, a further five miles, is estimated to bring the total up to between £250 and £430million. To dual the entire 37-mile single-carriageway stretches would cost between £720million and £1.2billion.

“Any work which is agreed in the coming Autumn Statement will then take a further four to five years to develop before we finally see diggers on the ground, so this campaign, which has been running for decades, has a long way still to go. The devil will be in the detail, but Sir Alan Beith and I will keep up the pressure for progress.”

Ms Trevelyan responded: “I am disappointed that the Lib Dems felt the need to rush to the Press with information from the confidential meeting which we had with the Department of Transport on Monday about the progress of the feasibility study for dualling the A1 north of Newcastle.

“The department’s highways team are currently in the process of finalising a detailed feasibility report and due diligence on what is a massive infrastructure project which will be a major boost to the North-East economy if we get the green light from the Chancellor on the December 3.

“Political opportunism should never override the need to be professional and we must avoid destabilising the process. The projected numbers were given to us in confidence in advance of Ministers having a chance to review them and make a decision on which of many competing schemes they will choose to invest in this year.

“The high figures quoted are not an accurate reflection of likely costs since they factor in at this stage all unforeseen risks, such as environmental delays, most of which are likely to be resolved as the detailed planning progresses, assuming the Chancellor approves the scheme in the Autumn Statement. In anticipation of a positive outcome, the Dual the A1 team are starting to work with environmental bodies to look at potential risks, so that we are prepared.”