Case for upgrading A1 is in sharp focus

These aerial photos show why improvements to North-East roads are vital for the region's economy.

These aerial photos show why improvements to North-East roads are vital for the region's economy.

They show Gateshead's Team Valley Trading Estate in 1986, and in 2004.

The business park has seen tremendous expansion over that time. But the A1 Western bypass which runs around it has barely changed.

Last night, campaigners called for upgrades to the road to prevent a repeat of recent controversies.

A series of job-creating developments have been held up in the past two years by Article 14 orders, used by the Highways Agency to prevent planning decisions due to fears over the impact on congestion.

The heavy-handed tactic has now been eased following the Go For Jobs campaign, led by The Journal, our sister paper the Evening Gazette in Teesside, and the North-East Chamber of Commerce.

However, the situation is almost certain to re-emerge unless the long-term issue of the capacity of the bypass is addressed.

A study in 2002, commissioned by the Government, recommended widening the road.

However, the then transport secretary, Alistair Darling, rejected the proposal.

The failure to upgrade the road led the Highways Agency to put blocks on planning applications for job-creating developments at Team Valley, along with a string of other sites close to the A1 and A19.

Among the plans to be hit with delays were UK Land Estates's proposal to re-develop the derelict Jockey factory site, and Yorkshire firm Priority Sites's bid to create offices for small hi-tech firms.

The agency feared that any more development would lead to gridlock, with the bypass already well above capacity at peak times.

However, the Go For Jobs campaign has argued that job-creating developments should not be threatened by inadequate roads - in a region with the lowest employment rates and number of businesses in the country.

New plans for improving the road are due to be produced by the Highways Agency in the autumn.

NECC spokesman Mike Parker said: "It is incredible to see the tremendous growth that has taken place on the Team Valley over the past two decades - proving what a popular location it is for business.

"However, these images graphically illustrate the legacy of underfunding in that part of the region. During this period no significant infrastructure improvements have been made to the A1 which skirts along its length.

"What you also cannot see is how many of the buildings on Team Valley are lying dormant or are urgently in need of renewal but are still stalling due to planning constraints."

Tyne Bridge MP David Clelland said: "I think everybody who's used the road over that period recognises the build up in traffic is not only because of increasing car ownership, but also because of increased economic activity around there.

"That's one of the reasons the Highways Agency gave for restricting future development because of its effect on the road - which of course we think is the wrong way round.

"You should improve the road rather than restrict economic activity."

---------------------------------------------------------

Go for jobs?

What is go for jobs?

It is a campaign backed by The Journal, our sister paper the Evening Gazette and the North-East Chamber of Commerce. It was prompted by the Highways Agency's use of Article 14 to stop business developments, potentially creating thousands of jobs, if they involve adding more cars to the A1 or A19.

WHAT IS AN ARTICLE 14?

It is a piece of legislation which allows the agency to block planning applications where they could add more traffic to congested roads.

WHAT'S WRONG WITH THAT?

It may be valid in areas where roads are already upgraded and the economy is over-heating. But in the North-East, the transport infrastructure suffers from under-investment, and the economy has to catch up with the rest of the country. This will delay road improvements, and block new job-creating businesses, in a region that badly needs both.

WHAT HAS BEEN ACHIEVED SO FAR?

Roads Minister Stephen Ladyman has given assurances that Article 14 notices should be used "very infrequently", and that a line should be drawn on two years of problems with the orders.

WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN NEXT?

The agency and local councils need to come up better alternatives to ease congestion.

These could include a "fast lane" on the Western bypass for through traffic, which is closed off to junctions.

There also should be a robust public transport system.

HOW ABOUT THE LONG TERM?

There should be no further delay to the upgrades to the A1 and A19, with an extra lane where necessary on the Western bypass, to give Newcastle and Gateshead a comparable transport link to other major UK cities.

HOW CAN I FIND OUT MORE?

Go to www.goforjobs.co.uk

Journalists

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