In December 2014, the then Prime Minister David Cameron visited to announce £290million for a scheme that includes two sections of dualling – Morpeth to Felton and Alnwick to Ellingham – as well as other improvements north of Ellingham.
This week, Coun Georgina Hill, the independent member for Berwick East, said that she fears the chances that the Government will dual the A1 all the way to the Scottish border within the next 15 years ‘have moved from slim to almost non-existent’.
But the MP for Berwick, Anne-Marie Treveylan, who was a key campaigner for the current project and who has vowed to continue to push on this issue, said that dualling to the border ‘remains an important part of the future of the North East’.
Setting out her concerns, Coun Hill said: “The financial cost of the crisis is enormous so you have to doubt whether the Government is going to be able or willing to release money to dual the rest of the A1. There may even be some concern now that some of the existing plan may be shelved.
“Also, industry experts are predicting that road usage will go down with, for example, a large increase in people working from home and the rapid growth of online shopping and home delivery services, all of which will be permanent changes – existing trends which have accelerated due to the current situation.
“Therefore, campaigners who could not make the business case pre-2014 to the Treasury that the usage of the A1 at the north end was sufficient to justify the spend for full dualling are going to face more difficulties making it now.
“Furthermore, with prevailing concerns about the environment and the huge advancements in technology, it is likely that, increasingly, major investments in infrastructure will move away from roads and be directed more to other types of infrastructure.”
However, Mrs Trevelyan said: “Investment in infrastructure will be even more important in the wake of this crisis, and dualling the A1, beyond the present plans, all the way to the border, remains an important part of the future of the North East.”
Coun Hill, who previously worked for Mrs Trevelyan, explained that despite her fears, she feels that the economic and safety case for full dualling remains strong and that the campaign needs to press ahead.
“The current Berwick MP, as with her predecessor, has spent many years and expended a lot of political capital on this,” she said. “If you have made dualling the A1 your one, big local campaign and it does not come to fruition then that is a pretty difficult situation to be in.
“While the new landscape means that there is a likelihood of a general downward trend in the amount of cars on the road, there are other major shifts. For example, with more remote working and online communication, we could see the beginning of a bit more levelling out of population centres.
“In other words, a reduction in people living in the more densely populated areas and an increase in those living in the less densely populated places such as Northumberland. The property sector has already reported a spike in interest in rural housing.
“Also, at least in the short to medium term, there is going to be a sharp increase in residents holidaying within the UK, combined with the increase in tourists we have already seen over the last decade or so, this will mean many more visitors to Berwick and the rest of north Northumberland.
“Therefore, even if they need to retune the specific arguments of the case, full dualling of the A1 remains of pressing importance to this area.”
A development consent order (DCO) – the equivalent of a planning application for major infrastructure projects – for the current sections of proposed dualling is due to be submitted at the end of this month.
The bids will be decided by the Planning Inspectorate, on behalf of the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, and a planning inspector will be appointed to conduct examinations into the two proposals.
The inspector has a statutory duty to conclude the examination part of the DCO process within six months – although it is unclear whether this might be affected by Covid-19.
The latest targets for both sections were for work to start in 2021 and the new routes to be open to traffic in 2023.
To the north of Ellingham, a total of 11 junctions are to be improved, after initial proposals for overtaking lanes were dropped due to safety concerns over their proximity to junctions.
This project got under way in late 2018 and so far, the work on the junctions at Fenham le Moor, Outchester, Adderstone Mains and Newstead has been completed. Others to be improved are the junctions at Cheswick Buildings, Fenhamhill, Haggerston Castle, Warenford, Purdy Lodge and Belford Station Road.