THE national importance of the A1 north of Newcastle has finally been recognised by Whitehall after years of campaigning.
Transport Minister Norman Baker yesterday confirmed the A1 from Newcastle to the Scottish border has been made a route of strategic national importance.
Campaigners hope the road’s reclassification from being a regionally important route could open the door to additional funding – although the Government has stressed there is no guarantee money will be found to upgrade the route.
Political and business leaders have for years been calling on ministers to fully dual the route on safety and economic grounds. In the past, hundreds of millions of pounds of required funding was effectively denied to the North East by Whitehall.
It insisted any upgrade had to be paid for without help from national spending funds, leaving the region unable to pay for dualling as it would use the North East’s entire funding stream on a single project.
Anne-Marie Trevelyan, director of the A1 Action Group, said: “I am thrilled that following the consultation the ministers have listened to our argument and that this important strategic change has now been implemented.
“I am having ongoing discussions with ministers and Whitehall about how we can help them to understand the economic importance both to the region and UK plc for the infrastructure investment that is needed.”
She added that campaigners would continue to press the case for funding to upgrade the road, with the Department for Transport currently looking at changing its criteria to decide how to allocate spending.
The Government’s decision also reflected how local people could get together and influence ministers, said Mrs Trevelyan.
Sir Alan Beith, Liberal Democrat MP for Berwick, said: “I welcome the decision of the coalition Government but it has come at a time when there is virtually no money in the pool for national road schemes.
“I will continue to make the case for the strategic importance for dualling the A1 and the economic development of the North East and the Scottish Borders.”
He added: “There are dangerous stretches of the road which should be prioritised such as the section south of Belford and action on these would be a very clear signal that the strategic importance of the road is recognised.”
The news was also welcomed by the Association of North East Councils. Chairman Paul Watson said: “The North East has a unique place in the economic geography of the UK, linking the two nations of England and Scotland. ANEC has long championed the importance of strategic transport links northwards – as well as to the south – to improve connections that will support economic growth, trade and tourism opportunities.”
Andrew Sugden, director of membership and policy at the North East Chamber of Commerce, said his organisation was pleased the Government had acknowledged the national importance of the A1 along its entire route.
“It does set the terms for a discussion with the Government, but clearly in the current fiscal environment we wouldn’t expect the Government to commit funding,” he said. But Mr Sugden said it was “crazy” that ministers had axed plans to upgrade the A1 through North Yorkshire when recognising the entire road was nationally important.
Following the road’s reclassification, approximately 65 miles of the A1 will join a key list of nationally important roads.
Mr Baker said: “The changes are of particular significance for the A1 north of Newcastle where campaigners have long fought to have the route recognised as being of national importance.
“While it does not guarantee funding – any proposed upgrade would need to be subject to the usual decision making processes – it finally recognises the road’s importance for freight and other strategic traffic travelling between Newcastle and Edinburgh.”
Fiona Hall, Lib Dem Euro-MP for the North East, said the change in designation underlined the importance of the A1.
But she said junior Transport Minister Mike Penning was “categorical” when they spoke last week that the A1 would not be dualled in this Parliament.
“Like his predecessors, both Conservative and Labour, the minister does not regard the A1 as a priority,” she said.