TORY transport spokeswoman Theresa Villiers has refused to back the upgrading of the A1 – but she has promised to visit the region to talk about it.
Ms Villiers was unable to give a commitment on the A1 Western Bypass or fully dualling the A1 through Northumberland, claiming the party did not yet know what the available budget would be.
The Shadow Transport Secretary added: “Closer to the election, I hope to be able to give clearer indications on specific schemes but we haven’t got there yet.
“But what I do want to do is to go up to the North-East to discuss those road schemes and other transport issues and how we can ensure that the North-East has got the best transport links because it is so critically important to their development.”
Speaking at a Tory fringe event, Ms Villiers said road pricing had an “appealing air” in terms of addressing transport funding problems, and could help manage demand and generate additional capacity. But she expressed concern about potential misuse and said it should not price people off the road or be another stealth tax.
And asking people to pay for a new road or lane was one thing, but pricing for existing routes was more controversial with strong arguments for making it “revenue neutral” by rebating other motoring taxes or cash raised spent on transport.
Ms Villiers also warned it would be “foolhardy” to ignore the 1.8m-strong petition against congestion charging on the Downing Street website, and stressed the Conservatives had not made any final decisions on the issues.
Her comments come after Labour’s Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly last week refused to comment on upgrading the A1 but said road pricing was “inevitable”.
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell has backed widening the A1 Western bypass and fully dualling the A1 in Northumberland to improve congestion and safety, but controversially suggested road charging could pay for upgrades.
Berwick’s Lib Dem MP Alan Beith said: “In 1992, the Conservative transport minister visited Berwick and promised to upgrade the A1 to dual carriageway between Newcastle and Edinburgh.
“The Tories had the chance to make real improvements to the safety of the A1 and to our region’s economy and infrastructure, but did nothing to help us here in the North-East. Now the shadow transport minister has ruled out upgrading the A1, sending a message to the people of our region that the Conservatives do not care about our lives or our economy. This is nothing more than we have come to expect from the Conservatives.”
Andrew Sugden, from the North-East Chamber of Commerce, said: “At least half of that is encouraging because she will be coming to see for herself the improvements that are needed.”