A FRESH row over the A1 erupted after a top Tory MP suggested public cash could pay for dualling the route alongside plans for massive tax cuts.
Labour and Liberal Democrat opponents seized on a Tory policy review led by ex-cabinet minister John Redwood amid concerns about how the bill would be paid for under the proposals, which are not official party policy but will be considered by leader David Cameron.
The review’s call for the A1 to be least dualled to Scotland because it was the “best thing” to boost regional development was welcomed in the region – and Mr Redwood said improvements could be paid for from public funds.
But the policy group warned the country’s road network was inadequate and it would not be possible to do all the necessary work using taxpayers’ money or the Government borrowing cash with the country unable to wait another decade while ministers worked out how to pay the bills.
It recommended selected routes were offered to private firms to improve while they could collect a toll, with other motoring taxes cut proportionately to avoid “double taxation” alongside a regulated tariff.
Mr Redwood said tax cuts could generate more revenue for public services by boosting economic growth. He added: “If you have the courage to cut the rates, the rich pay more – more stay here, more are successful here, they will pay more tax.”
He added road improvements could be paid for through public funding or tolls if there was an alternative such as the privately-funded M6 tolled expressway in the Midlands and the congested M6 motorway.
Shadow chancellor George Osborne warned the Tories could not afford to fight the next general election on the promise of a tax giveaway with any cuts paid for by increases elsewhere, such as new environmental levies.
Dave Anderson, Labour MP for Blaydon, backed upgrading the A1 but questioned how the Tories could pay for their plans.
“They propose to cut taxes left right and centre, so you are reducing the public sector base. But then they say they can pay for the A1, so does something else have to go? It is financial nonsense,” he said.
Greg Stone, a senior Liberal Democrat councillor in Newcastle, welcomed the fact that the Conservatives were discussing the A1 but claimed people would not trust them until they saw firm commitments.
Conservative Berwick parliamentary candidate Anne-Marie Trevelyan said at least dualling the A1 was “absolutely” key in attracting business, while the route between Newcastle and Berwick should be dealt under the national road programme.
Ross Smith, from the North East Chamber of Commerce, welcomed the report’s prioritisation of the A1 and linking tolls to cuts in other duties. But he expressed concern about East Coast rail services to London with a maglev link taking years to build.
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