Highways England has started down the road to get planning permission for a dualled A1.
Having announced the route last September, the authority must now apply for a Development Consent Order – the equivalent of the planning-application process for so-called nationally significant infrastructure projects.
The dualling of the A1 from Morpeth to Felton is now at the pre-application stage with its first document – a 200-plus-page environmental impact assessment scoping report – being submitted to the Planning Inspectorate last week.
The application itself is expected to be submitted in the autumn. From accepting an application to making a decision, the whole process should last in the region of 15 months.
Based on these timescales, the scheme could expect a decision late in 2019 or early in 2020, with the latter previously earmarked as the date for construction to begin with completion in 2023.
Nanette Hoyle, project manager for the A1 in Northumberland scheme, said: “Working is progressing well on the scheme, we have submitted our environmental impact assessment scoping report to the planning inspectorate for the dualling of the A1 between Morpeth and Felton.
“This is one of the first stages before we submit an application for a Development Consent Order to the Planning Inspectorate later this year.
“We will also be holding a consultation to update on progress and provide an opportunity for people to comment on the proposals and meet the project team.
“Work is also continuing on the second section of dualling between Alnwick and Ellingham, and our ecologists will be undertaking surveys in the area in the spring.
“By upgrading these two sections of carriageway, it will create a dual carriageway on the entire stretch of the route between Newcastle and Ellingham.
“These improvements will provide additional capacity and improved journey times and safety while supporting economic growth in the region.”
The Planning Act 2008 process was introduced to streamline the decision-making process for nationally significant infrastructure projects, making it fairer and faster for communities and developers alike.
However, it is still complicated and lengthy, comprising six key stages – pre-application, acceptance, pre-examination, examination, decision and post-decision.
Upon receipt of an application for development consent – expected in the autumn in the case of the Morpeth to Felton dualling – the Planning Inspectorate has 28 days to decide whether or not to accept it.
The pre-examination stage, in which the public can share its views, takes around three months, then the Inspectorate has six months to examine an application and a further three months to make a recommendation to the Secretary of State.
There is then another three months for the Secretary of State to make the final decision, but even after that, there is a six-week period in which the decision may be challenged in the High Court via judicial review.
Nonetheless, the changes have brought the average time for the decision-making process from two years to 15 months.
Ahead of the submission later in the year, Highways England will also be holding more public consultation events in the area.
The dualling of the Morpeth to Felton section is just one element of the wider A1 in Northumberland project, which also includes the dualling of the Alnwick to Ellingham section and other improvements further north.
The preferred route for the Alnwick to Ellingham section was also announced back in September.
The development of the detailed designs for the improvements north of Ellingham, to include overtaking lanes at Belford and Fenwick, junction improvements at West Mains, Cheswick and the Wooler road, and improved crossing facilities for pedestrians, is taking place at the moment with construction expected to start this year.