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Transport: A1 Dual Carriageway

Volume 778: debated on Tuesday 7 February 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they expect work to begin on the construction of new sections of dual carriageway on the A1 in Northumberland.

My Lords, I thank the Lord Speaker for the clarity of his statement and beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, as set out in the road investment strategy of December 2014, construction of the A1 dualling schemes between Morpeth and Ellingham is expected to commence in 2020. This is subject to completion of statutory planning processes and continuing to demonstrate value for money. The A1 in Northumberland programme will also benefit from a package of smaller-scale junction improvements, overtaking lanes and pedestrian improvements north of Ellingham. These are planned to start construction in 2018.

I thank the Minister for his reply and ask him if it is the view of Her Majesty’s Government that there should be a continuous dual-carriage A1 from London to the Scottish border. He indicated in his response, and perhaps he will now confirm, that although the commitment was made by the coalition Government in 2014 for substantial extra dualling, it will probably not start until after the next general election.

I applaud the persistence of the noble Lord in raising over many years the issue of upgrading the A1 up to what I believe is his old constituency in Berwick. I reassure him that it is very much part of the plan to dual the road right up to the border, but he will be aware that these road plans can be very complicated and need to be done in stages. This programme will start in 2020 and is due to be completed on time and on budget by 2023.

My Lords, the upgrading of the A1 would have a hugely beneficial effect on bringing about the northern powerhouse, which we are all keen to happen. But equally the A69, which is the link road between Carlisle and Newcastle, is appalling as it goes down to 16 feet wide at Warwick Bridge. If that road was improved, a huge amount of the Scottish and Irish traffic currently going further down the country would cross over to Newcastle, revitalising the port there and bringing real additional prosperity to the city, just as the A1 does to the area. I hope that this upgrade will also be considered a high priority.

My noble friend makes a good point. Of course we are talking about the A1, but this is all part of the new interconnectivity up in the north and the north-east. We are bringing forward junction improvements on the A69 which should be complete by 2020. Every key junction on the A69 between Hexham and the A1 at Newcastle will be grade separated.

My Lords, I urge the Minister to act more swiftly in the dualling of the A1. People have campaigned for this for 20 or even 30 years and there is huge public support in the region for it, partly on safety grounds because of the number of head-on collisions given the confusing mixture of single and dual carriageways, partly on economic grounds to help an area of the country that would very much welcome such an economic boost, and partly on political grounds given that most of us welcome the fact that Scotland voted to remain part of the union. The A1 is a hugely important communications route between both London and Scotland and Northumberland and the Scottish borders.

The noble Baroness is absolutely correct and I stress again that we are on time with this project. However, she will know that these major road schemes have to go through particular stages, including strong consultation. We have consulted on both stretches—the dualling and the improvements north of Ellingham. Along with the improvements from Morpeth up to Ellingham, a development consent order with statutory timescales is required, so there are some necessary steps to go through to be sure that we do this work effectively.

My Lords, while warmly supporting the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Beith, I will follow up the supplementary put by my noble friend Lord Vinson. Will my noble friend on the Front Bench refute a comment made to me some years ago by the then spokesman for my party in this House on transport, in response to a supplementary question, that it was quicker to go from Newcastle to Edinburgh via Carlisle?

I am not sure that I am in a position to comment on something that was said many years ago, but speed is of the essence here. When we complete this particular upgrade of the A1 on time, freight, tourists, locals and everyone else who wants to use the road will at last be able more speedily to reach the border—and I hope beyond, but that is up to the Scottish Government.

On that last point, would the Minister be kind enough to consult his opposite number in the Scottish Government, Mr Yousaf, with a view to making sure that the benefit of these works extends right the way to Edinburgh?

The noble Lord is absolutely right and I can confirm that consultation is going on. We are very much hoping for, but have no influence over, the decision that the Scottish Government will make.

The Minister said that the project will start in 2020. Could he explain why the Highways England website shows the start date as “TBC”, which could be “transparent broken commitment” but I assume means “to be confirmed”? Why does the Minister have a different view of the start date from Highways England?

I will have to check the website, but I confirm that we are on track to start this project in 2020. I can perhaps add a bit more gravitas to that by saying that the consultation process, which finished at the end of last year, is also on track. We are looking at the views expressed by those who contributed to that process. The next stage will happen very quickly and the decision will be made in late spring or early summer.

Is my noble friend aware that in 1966 I made a vain attempt to reduce the majority of 24,000 of Emanuel Shinwell in Easington on one issue: the A1 north of Scotch Corner? Can we at least build the road to some sort of higher standard up to the Scottish border, where its pristine condition no doubt comes compliment of the English taxpayer?

I think I made clear earlier that that is the intention. We are going full steam ahead in dualling the road up to Ellingham. North of Ellingham, we are producing the overtaking lanes. I say again that we cannot do everything in one go and I stress again that we are on time. But there are other projects. In fact, there are 112 other projects around England that we are focusing on. Upgrading the nearby A66 is one of the important projects we are pushing ahead with.

My Lords, would my noble friend accept that the people of Northumberland will be very glad to hear that this project is on target? Will it be possible for him to indicate as early as possible which of the three routes that have been tested will be used for the stretch north of Morpeth? I declare an interest as a landowner over whose ground it will go.

I reassure my noble friend that the options for the routes are being looked at now. This is all part of the consultation process that is under way. It is indeed extremely good news not just for the locals in Northumberland, but for those wishing to travel through Northumberland up to the north.