Roads Minister Andrew Jones visited the A1 in Northumberland today as the Government unveiled a blueprint for how £13billion of investment in transport will help create the Northern Powerhouse.
The Northern Powerhouse is described as ‘a one-nation drive to close the economic gap between north and south by helping the region unleash its full power and create a balanced, healthier economy’.
‘Making transport better by improving the links that bind the north together is integral to this enterprise’ and among the key schemes in the North East is the £290million investment to complete the dualling of the A1 between Morpeth and Ellingham as well as various improvements from Ellingham up to the border.
Asked how schemes such as dualling the A1 help to boost the economy and create jobs, Mr Jones said: “Simply by making it easier for people and goods to travel around our country. We have had a long-term, historic underinvestment in infrastructure. What we are talking about today as part of the Road Investment Strategy is delivering the biggest period of road investment in a generation and that makes a big difference.
“It will help people get here and that’s why this is a scheme which people have been campaigning for on a local basis, which has been talked about for many, many years and that’s why it’s very encouraging we are getting on and delivering it.
“We are really keen to make sure we actually have a proper rolling programme of road investment across our country to catch up on this historic backlog, where we have so many schemes that we need doing.
“The key thing we will be opening up later this year is the second Road Investment Strategy and we will be letting local communities, MPs and Highways England (the new government-owned company which replaced the Highways Agency) nominate schemes to be included in the next five-year period for road investment.”
In north Northumberland, there are sure to be calls to dual the A1 from Ellingham to Berwick as part of this next investment period.
Asked why the dualling isn’t going all the way to the border already, ensuring a Northern Powerhouse across the whole region, Mr Jones said: “We are seeing a series of investments which will improve things all the way to the border. It’s not a question of no investment up to the border. Remember, we are actually looking at almost a generational scale of backlog. We can only do one thing at a time and this Road Investment Strategy really is very encouraging news.”
He added: “We are going to have more so I certainly wouldn’t rule it out for the future. The key thing is we are getting going, we are doing something which has been really looked for and demanded by local people for years and years and now it’s arriving and that’s why it’s good news.”
Mr Jones also highlighted the change, announced in the Chancellor’s Summer Budget, from Vehicle Excise Duty to a dedicated road fund, which is about ‘taking the hurly-burly of politics away from road investment and making sure we can have a smooth and continuous programme to catch up on infrastructure investment’.