Government pushed on plans to 'accelerate' A1 dualling in Northumberland

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The government has failed to say how it will speed up a series of critical North East transport upgrades that it pledged would be “accelerated as fast as possible” – including the dualling of the A1.

A number of major infrastructure improvements across the region were promised a boost under the ill-fated Growth Plan unveiled by the now-sacked Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng last month.

But the Department for Transport (DfT) has been unable to give any details on what will actually be done to “accelerate” the projects.

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Easington MP Grahame Morris has urged the government to produce more than “warm words”, while local councils are understood to be similarly in the dark over the plans.

The A1 near Ellingham.The A1 near Ellingham.
The A1 near Ellingham.

The £40m restoration of the Tyne Bridge and Central Motorway, the Northumberland Line railway reopening, upgrades to the northern transpennine A66, and the dualling of the A1 between Morpeth and Ellingham were all named within the mini-budget’s 114-strong list of transport infrastructure schemes to be sped up.

A DfT spokesperson said: “We are building a new era for Britain and unleashing our potential for growth by targeting more than 100 rail and road schemes for acceleration.

“By reducing unnecessary burdens on planning processes and speeding up infrastructure, we can give our economy the freedom to boost growth.

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“The quicker we can deliver projects, the quicker we can help millions of people and businesses, and build up every corner of the UK.”

The DfT was also asked by the Local Democracy Reporting Service if the decision on whether to proceed with the dualling of the A1 would be brought forward, given that the verdict had previously been pushed back to December this year, and if the timescale for the reopening of the Northumberland Line would be changed.

Work has already begun to restore passenger services to the railway, between Ashington and Newcastle, and the first trains are due to run in December 2023.

The DfT said that the review of the A1 dualling plan was “still ongoing” and that further details on the Northumberland Line “will come in due course”.

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Mr Morris, a member of the House of Commons transport select committee, said the projects listed within the Growth Plan were “absolutely key” to the economic future of the North East.

He added: “If this is going to have tangible meaning, then we need more than warm words, we need firm financial commitments.”

The Labour MP remained “optimistic” that promises made to the North East around transport upgrades would be kept, given that Berwick MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan is the new transport secretary and is “fully aware” of their importance.

Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPS) was also listed for acceleration in the Growth Plan, with Liz Truss having pledged during the Tory leadership campaign to build the flagship rail project in full. A commitment to a full delivery of NPR would include upgrades to the East Coast Main Line north of York.

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Having seen the government U-turn on the core of Ms Truss’ economic agenda over recent days, Gateshead Council leader Martin Gannon warned on Tuesday that her pledges on the rail scheme now had “absolutely no credibility”.

Asked by Mr Morris about the government’s commitment to NPR at a Commons transport committee on Wednesday, Ms Trevelyan replied: “I can give you the absolute assurance that I will work as hard as I can.

"It is very clear to everybody that they have a North East MP as their secretary of state and my commitment to ensure that, while investment everywhere is important, bringing up the long term lack of investment in many parts of the north is something I am absolutely focused on.”