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Volume 478: debated on Tuesday 8 July 2008

The Highways Agency classified roads in the strategic roads network as national or regional roads in 2005 to support the regional funding allocation process. Roads were assessed against set criteria, and the A1 north of Newcastle was judged to be a route of regional importance. There are no plans to carry out a review of those classifications for the forthcoming round of advice on regional funding allocations.

Well, is it not time that there was a review of the classification, especially as the regional transport board, the regional development agency and all the local authorities involved think that the A1 north of Newcastle should be treated as a national strategic road? The traffic patterns—the distances travelled—seem to support that view. The Highways Agency itself spent £5.25 million working up schemes before the classification was changed.

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, it may be helpful to the right hon. Gentleman and the House if I briefly set out the four criteria. The first is an average daily traffic flow of more than 60,000 vehicles along the length of the route. Secondly, the road must link at least two of the top 20 English cities by population, or link one of those cities with an airport or seaport, or with Wales or Scotland. Thirdly, heavy goods vehicles must make up 15 per cent. or more of the traffic, on average, along the length of the route. Fourthly, the road must be part of the European Union’s trans-European transport network. I have to tell him that the A1 north of Newcastle does not meet those criteria.

May I ask the Minister to reconsider the matter in the light of the opening of the second Tyne tunnel, which is due to take place in 2012? The Tyne tunnel road was originally the A1, and the A1 was routed round to the west of Newcastle, but that was some 20 or 30 years ago. May I ask him to reconsider the matter, as some of the information to which he just referred would look entirely different if we considered the future of the trunk road network through the built-up area of Tyne and Wear?

My hon. Friend is right inasmuch as, to quote John Maynard Keynes,

“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

Of course, if the facts change, the Government will look at the matter again, but we have to make sure that the criteria are consistent across the whole country. I advise my hon. Friend, and other right hon. and hon. Members, that simply reclassifying a road does not create any extra resources with which to upgrade and expand it. The amount of money in the pot stays static. Of course, if we have to fund a particular scheme from central resources, that means fewer resources for the regional funding allocation.