Transport strikes right at the heart of the NEvolution campaign.
The North East is the only area of the country with a positive balance of trade, thanks to its world-class export businesses.
Therefore, critical to the ongoing success of the area is the development of strong connections to key markets in the UK and overseas – and this means investment in transport links that can spur on further growth.
While the North East is already seeing success in export, it is clear that further improvements would only bolster this.
Improved links would ensure that the UK and the world has easy access to the products and services the North East has to offer – and in turn the area could contribute even more to UK PLC.
The North East will maximise the opportunities presented by the Pinch Point scheme announced in the Autumn statement, which signalled support for local transport priorities which need to be delivered as swiftly as possible.
Road links are the key part of the transport mix. Around 88 per cent of traffic (people and freight) in the UK travels by road – it is fundamental therefore, that we have excellent road infrastructure to support businesses based here.
Key in north Northumberland is the dualling of the A1 to ensure that the county doesn’t miss out on economic growth.
Greg Clark MP, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, visited the county last week to meet Dual the A1 campaign director Anne-Marie Trevelyan and local businesses. Brenda Hackett, from Lindisfarne Ltd, which produces mead and other products on Holy Island, said that the A1 needs to be dualled from a safety, business and tourist point of view.
“For us, it’s a logistical nightmare,” she said.
“We sell mead and other branded products throughout the UK and the amount of money extra we pay is obviously added to the product, which puts us in a disadvantageous situation.
“All the traffic down the east coast is at a disadvantage to the traffic that goes down the west coast.
“Why should we be disadvantaged in the North East because of terrible road we have? It’s not acceptable and we need to keep pressuring those in Westminster.”
Alan Ferguson, of Fergusons Transport, pointed out that when he tries to sell the North East as a region to potential investors, Northumberland doesn’t stand a chance.
“You can’t get them to look at Northumberland, because when they look at the map, there’s no road network. In terms of getting inward investment, we are just not on the radar.
“We live in a wonderful county and I think we should share it with people.”
Speaking to the Gazette, Mr Clark MP said: “This is developing a real national profile now and Anne-Marie has been a real advocate for the economic case.
“The economic case is crucially important, especially in the North East which is the only region that has had a trade surplus for exports – goods need roads to get to market.”
He conceded that while other aspects are important, as a Treasury Minister, it’s the economic case that he’s ‘particularly keen on’.
“It’s useful to meet local businesses and get personal testimonies,” he said.
“Lindisfarne Mead, for example, is a very distinctive and unique product.
“It’s not replacing anyone else’s market and it’s good for the UK to export this product with strong historic and local links.
“I think we need to be doing all we can to help businesses like that.”
Anne-Marie was pleased that now the campaign has the support of the Department for Transport, the Treasury, which holds the pursestrings, is also getting involved.
“I don’t expect we will see £600million immediately, but we need them to back this as a key funding scheme and invest in the detailed work that needs to be done,” she said.
One of the other key points being called for by NEvolution is investment to connect the area to others on the east coast – this means investment in conventional rail, and links into a high-speed network.
The calibre of the area’s rail infrastructure will be a major factor in the area’s ability to fulfil its potential to produce a stronger return for the Treasury.