The long campaign to dual the A1 north of Newcastle won an important breakthrough yesterday.
An announcement of a feasibility study is the first concrete acknowledgement that the Government does plan to transform the road to Scotland into a dual carriageway.
Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, announced plans to improve the A1 in Northumberland alongside a £100bn infrastructure spending programme.
Mr Alexander included a separate feasibility study into proposals for a £75m relief road to ease traffic problems on the A1 Western Bypass.
His announcement also promoted a plan to build a flyover on the the A19 at Testo’s roundabout in South Tyneside to near the top of the list.
And funding was confirmed for a previously announced flyover on the A19 at Silverlink in North Tyneside.
A 1.5km stretch of the A1 near the junction with the A184 near Dunston, Gateshead, will be improved, with work set to start in 2014-15.
There will be increased capacity on the East Coast Main Line and local services in Newcastle, with new trains introduced for inter-city services, and 31 schools will be rebuilt in the North East.
Treasury minister David Gauke said the study on the A1 in Northumberland was the first stage to getting building work under way.
He said: “There is no scheme on the books that we can refer to, no substantial piece of work that we can just say ‘yes’ to. So that’s why it needs a feasibility study.
“But we’d only do this feasibility study if there was a real desire to do it now.”
Referring to Mr Alexander’s announcement, he said: “The reason why the A1 is there is because we want to do this.
“But the next stage is to look at what our options are, where there are potential difficulties, look at what the costs will be – but there is a strong desire to do it.”
Speaking in the Commons, Mr Alexander said: “Our commitment to the A1 north of Newcastle will be a significant investment in the North East’s economy.”
But campaigners warned that the battle to build the road had not yet been won.
Berwick Lib Dem MP Sir Alan Beith said he planned to meet Mr Alexander to ask for more details, adding: “I need to see the detail behind the announcement, to make sure I continue to speak to the people who will have the final say on when and how improvements are carried out.”
Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who set up and leads the Dual the A1 Campaign, who said: “I am pleased that the A1 dualling review is to be set in motion and that the detailed business case will now be drawn up. This is what the Dual the A1 Campaign has been calling for, and now we can get on to putting together the detailed programme of works.
“It is great news that our campaigning efforts have been heard but there is still ample work to do to ensure these promises are delivered.”
The North East Chamber of Commerce called the feasibility study “a major step in the right direction”.
Chief executive James Ramsbotham said: “The A19 upgrade at the Testo’s roundabout will aid access to Port of Tyne, Nissan and Tyne Tunnel II, while addressing congestion at the Silverlink junction will eradicate current bottleneck issues and ease access to North Tyneside’s business parks and firms along the north bank of the Tyne.”
Andrew Hebden, assistant director of CBI North East, said: “We are very pleased that ministers appear to have listened to the North East business community and promised to take action on the schemes identified by CBI North East and the North East Chamber of Commerce in our joint report published earlier this year.
“It is good that the A1 Western Bypass and A19 schemes in particular are part of this announcement, but they remain subject to conditions which could mean long delays before we actually see diggers on the ground. These schemes should be treated as a matter of urgency if they are to provide the kind of stimulus to our economy they are capable of delivering.”
But Nick Brown, Labour MP for Newcastle East, said: “It was very conspicuous that he didn’t list the A1 north of the Tyne and Wear as a scheme that was definitely going ahead.
“It sounds to me very much like the scheme I was overseeing in my former role as regional minister, but five years too late.”