North East 'at risk of being left in sidings'

The G9 group of commercial property agents is calling for a renewed focus on regional infrastructure

The single carriageway on the A1 road near Felton in Northumberland
The single carriageway on the A1 road near Felton in Northumberland

There has been a recent acceleration in the number of calls to dual the A1 through Northumberland.

Linking this increase in comment must surely not be as a result of local elections. True there are short bursts of four-lane road but, all in all, the A1 is a dangerous road as highlighted by its succession of warnings and sections prohibiting overtaking. This can reduce top speed to the pace of the slowest vehicle, be that a farm tractor, juggernaut or caravan.

The A1 is the main link from the North East to Scotland. As an important part of the regional economy it is within the overall infrastructure package for the region which enables it to function properly. We could take heart from plans to widen the A1M up to Scotch Corner but that will not be completed until 2017. Meanwhile to the west, the M74, running through countryside between Preston and Glasgow is now three lanes in either direction. A significant investment, whereas in the North East the A1 has no such luck.

In addition to main highways, infrastructure includes railways, air links, ports and commercial property such as factories and the availability of strategic sites to encourage inward investment all of which allow us to get on with day-to-day business and point to future economic prosperity.

The A1 aside, there is a clear need to provide a North Atlantic route for regional businesses that would match the successful Emirates connection with The Gulf. Connectivity by air via hubs, be it Heathrow, Paris or Amsterdam, adds a great deal of time hence the need for a clear, long-distance flight from Newcastle to North America to help our regional businesses penetrate important markets more easily.

Rail links with London are another concern, with the East Coast Main Line franchise the subject of future negotiation.

Travel can be comparatively quick if judging the best time to travel but that best time may not dovetail with a day’s business. A recent G9 member travelling to London by rail from Newcastle arrived at Green Park tube station in exactly three hours. That was luck - it could have been four hours or longer. Simply too long.

As previously mentioned by G9 the KPMG report on High Speed 2 referred to six city regions that will be connected by HS2 but Newcastle as a city region is not mentioned other than in passing. This must reinforce the view that unless the region comes together to punch its weight it will be ignored as far as national economic policy is concerned. We would be parked in a siding.

Though the Intercity Express Programme, the programme to replace Britain’s fleet of Intercity 125 High Speed Trains originally deployed by British Rail in the 1970s and 1980s, will enter service in 2018, will this operate on the same, ageing infrastructure? As a major regional issue, ECML seems to have fallen off the radar.

There is a need for sustained lobbying of the region for improvements and investment that will encourage economic activity. G9 as a group of commercial property experts can only raise questions about the economic impact of a high-speed rail link that goes directly to other parts of the country and query the assertion that in some way we will benefit.

However the task of applying pressure on behalf of our region falls to the two Local Enterprise Partnerships and the LA7 group of local authorities.

The G9 group of chartered surveyors comprises BNP Paribas Real Estate, DTZ, Gavin Black & Partners, GVA, Knight Frank, Lambert Smith Hampton, Sanderson Weatherall, Storeys Edward Symmons, Sykes Property Consultants and Naylors Chartered Surveyors

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer