THE Government’s transport policy has been labelled a “betrayal of the North-East” by David Cameron and Liberal Democrat leadership hopeful Nick Clegg.
The two politicians yesterday launched stinging attacks on Labour’s 10 years in power as delegates gathered at the Hilton Newcastle Gateshead for the annual North-East Economic Forum.
Mr Cameron accused the Government of unfair transport policies which, he said, were holding businesses back from their full potential.
He said: “Look at the situation in the North-East. The A1 remains over-congested despite promises of expansion.
“Ruth Kelly has just announced that a proposal for upgrading the Western bypass will not be produced until 2009, with completion not until 2015 at the earliest.
“And the expansion of the Metro system is still in the development phase.
“All in all, since 2000 the Government has spent just £577 per head on transport in the North-East compared to £1,637 in London.
“That isn’t fair and it is not good enough.”
Mr Cameron stopped short of a commitment to spending money on the A1, but said he would be looking at policies which would “ensure areas like the North-East don’t become gridlocked and isolated pockets of activity.
“The A1 is the big issue in the North-East and I totally understand that these improvements would make a big difference to the region’s performance and this would be an urgent issue for us to look at very quickly in Government to see if we could speed up the targets.”
Mr Cameron was not alone in using the annual conference to pick holes in the Government’s transport commitments. Sheffield MP Nick Clegg, who is widely considered to be favourite to take over as Liberal Democrat leader, called on the Government to invest in “rail, roads and public transport”.
He said: “We need to upgrade the region’s key roads, including the A1. It’s time for the North-East to secure its fair share of transport investment.
“An upgrade to the A1 is essential. It’s a key route in the region, a lifeline for the region and the country.
“We have to alter Treasury rules which encourage investment only in areas that can demonstrate short-term payback in terms of regeneration.
“This leads to over investment in the South-East.”
Conference leaders had invited Gordon Brown to speak at the event, which has previously seen Tony Blair praise the region’s ambition.
This year, the Government sent Communities and Local Government Secretary Hazel Blears.
The Minister told delegates the Government had acted on previous transport concerns by “increasing investment in North-East transport by more than 80%.
“We have put in something like £500m in the last six or seven years.
“But money is not the whole answer. We want to free up local authorities to have the power and the flexibility to make long-term decisions in the interest of the North-East.
“I think that the fact the area is working together on an integrated transport plan shows they are taking responsibility.”
Ms Blears told delegates the Government was awaiting the outcome of two congestion-busting research schemes.
Newcastle and Durham have both been tasked with providing detailed plans to tackle congestion before they are awarded millions in Government cash.