Dismay as A1 dualling decision delayed by a further nine months
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The nine-month postponement, until June 5, 2024, is the fourth time the final say has been pushed back, with the original deadline set as January 2022.
Ministers have said the “extension” will allow more time to “consider any matters relevant to the application” – but stakeholders in north Northumberland have slammed the move.
It means the final decision could come almost 10 years afters after then-chancellor George Osborne rubber-stamped a £290m scheme to dual the same stretch of road in his 2014 autumn statement.
At the time, work was expected to start within two years and completed within three years.
Coun Isabel Hunter, who represents the Berwick West with Ord ward on Northumberland County Council, runs a haulage business and has long campaigned for the road to be dualled all the way to the Scottish border. However, following the latest delay she feels it will never happen.
She said: “It is what we expected, but I am very disappointed. If they’re not going to get on with that but, they’re never going to get up to Berwick. Until they do that, we’ve got no chance.
“I would rather they would just be upfront and say it’s not going to happen rather than keeping everybody waiting. We’ve waited and waited, and we’re no further forward.
“Northumberland is being forgotten again. What has happened to levelling up? We’re not getting the opportunities that other places are.
“It’s very frustrating. I think everybody living here is going to be so, so annoyed.”
The delay was revealed in Parliament by Minister of State for Transport, Huw Merriman. He said it had been “necessary” to extend the deadline for the decision and said it would allow more time for the application to be considered.
The decision was delayed for “further consideration of environmental matters” – which Mr Merriman also referenced in his speech on Tuesday.
Mr Merriman added: “The decision to set a new deadline is without prejudice to the decision on whether to give development consent for the above application.”
In a statement issued via social media, Berwick’s Conservative MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan expressed her disappointment at the decision. However, the former transport secretary said she remained hopeful.
She said: “After years of campaigning to dual the A1, I share the real disappointment that today’s further delay means dualling won’t happen as quickly as we all need and want it to.
“None of this is great. Today’s road is a hazard, the distance to our nearest A&E makes dualling the A1 a matter of life and death, and of course dualling is essential for our economic development in North Northumberland.
“All the same, I’m hopeful too. Strategic and local road investment remains a manifesto commitment and, unlike some projects, it isn’t being cancelled or delayed until 2030.
“We’re on the hard shoulder, not at the end of the road – and you can believe that I’m on the phone to the DfT. While I do understand the challenges they face, to be in no doubt, I will be tailgating ministers for this final stretch of road.
“Together, we can signal the Secretary of State how strongly we need and want this dualled.”
Ms Trevelyan also called on residents to sign her petition calling on the DfT to dual the road.
But independent councillor Georgina Hill, who represents the Berwick East ward on the county council, said Ms Trevelyan – who pledged to dual the A1 as part of her election campaign in 2015, when the first won the seat – would be ’embarrassed’ by the delay and accused the Government of “treating voters like fools”.
She said: “Residents will now have very little hope about the prospect of the A1 being dualled between Morpeth to Ellingham and absolutely no hope of dualling up to Berwick. This is incredibly embarrassing for the local Tory MP who set her stall on dualling the A1.
“This further delay by the Government is only to spare blushes and has obviously been timed to come after the next General Election. The fact they are treating voters like fools will, understandably, fuel further anger and bitter disappointment.”
The proposed development comprises the widening of approximately 12.8 miles stretch of the A1 between Morpeth and Ellingham.