North East still waiting as road infrastructure put in slow lane

Government told it must deliver vital road projects for North East after only one scheme scheduled to get under way by time of general election

The A1 western bypass in Newcastle
The A1 western bypass in Newcastle

The Coalition Government will go into the next General Election with just one major North East road project under way.

Years of spending freezes, delayed infrastructure announcements and a continuing London funding bias mean it is likely that only the A1 Western Bypass will have shovels in the ground within the next two years.

Major road improvements projects elsewhere, such as vital upgrades to the A19 junctions, have been promised funding to start in 2016. Those flyovers and junction improvements were promised to the region back in 2009, and have already been cancelled once since then.

Even the A1 north of Morpeth is not expected to have had any more than business case funding by the 2015 General Election.

Earlier this month the Government announced a new wave of future infrastructure projects for the decade ahead, an opportunity to correct a historic funding imbalance.

But even with this the funding still equates to £4,893 per person in London compared to £245 per person in the North East.

The figures were revealed by think tank IPPR North, which has repeatedly called for a fairer funding settlement.

Ed Cox, director of IPPR North said: “Transport spending continues to be skewed towards London and the South East. New figures revealed in the National Infrastructure Plan show that London and the South East will receive three quarters of all transport infrastructure in England in the years ahead. The Thameslink boost alone is equivalent to the whole of planned spending in Yorkshire and the Humber and more than double the total investment in the North East.

“There is a further regional disparity concerning progress. Nearly four out of five of all of London’s projects are ‘active programmes’ or ‘in construction’. This compares with just one third of those in the North West, half those in Yorkshire and Humber and a quarter of projects in the North East. London’s construction programmes are much further ahead and bringing benefits sooner. Transport is vital for bringing connectivity and connecting growth and we need an infrastructure plan which unlocks growth for the whole country.”

In 2010 the Government froze all A19 works as it looked again at spending agreements the Labour party had to committed to in office.

Outside of road investment, the North East continues to lose out. From a funding pot earmarked with £115bn worth of spending just £2bn will be spent in the region.

According to the Infrastructure Plan and other Government announcements, by 2018 the following projects, worth over £700m, will have not only been approved but actually built, though this includes projects outside of the region which may have an impact on journeys to London.

The North East Chamber of Commerce has welcomed the fact that, further delays aside, there will eventually be progress.

The Chamber’s infrastructure specialist, Mark Stephenson, said: “For a long time, the North East has been somewhat of a poor relation when it comes to infrastructure investment, but the last year has seen the Government commit to a raft of projects that will provide a genuine boost to our regional connectivity and economic output.

“Work is already under way on the Western Bypass and we should be seeing significant progress on the Leeming to Barton stretch of the A1, with both projects a year ahead of schedule.”

He added: “The publication in December of the Government’s Infrastructure Plan has also provided us with a reasonable timetable for most of the key North East projects that will be welcomed by businesses.

“Around £700m will be spent on regional road and rail infrastructure projects in the next three to five years – an investment that is long overdue.

“It is also good to see that work on the A19 schemes at both Silverlink and Testos are both scheduled to start in 2016/17. These are both projects that will not only eliminate major congestion pinch points, but also hugely improve regional connectivity around some of our major business hubs.

“It is vital that the timeframes in this plan do not slip and we will continue to press the Government to make sure work begins as soon as possible.”

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