THE full cost of failing to invest in the A1 Western bypass is revealed today as ministers are told of 3,000 homes and 4,000 new jobs blocked as a result of the gridlocked road.
Transport ministers have been sent evidence detailing how the A1 Western bypass from Lobley Hill to the A184 Askew Road is the nation’s third most congested route, beaten only by the M25 toll road crossings of the Thames.
Despite the 123,400 vehicles using the Western bypass every day – seeing the road operate at three times its maximum capacity – it has repeatedly failed to attract investment.
Now council chiefs have said they have been left with no option but to build on green belt land because the traffic problems along the A1 mean they cannot realistically use land along the road for housing.
Mike Penning, the minister responsible for England’s most important roads, has been told it is unacceptable that cash is made available to upgrade less busy parts of the M25 in London while the region is held back because of its most notorious route.
In a series of letters to Mr Penning, Gateshead Council, supported by senior officers at Newcastle Council, has warned that unless money is spent on preparing the business case for a £75m relief road the economy will continue to suffer.
Roger Kelly, chief executive of Gateshead Council, was told by Mr Penning that only a small number of schemes will be handed the money needed to help experts put together all the paperwork needed to have them ready to go when major infrastructure investment is finally available. This business case cash has so far not included the A1.
In a clear warning of the cost to the region in not backing Western bypass improvements, Mr Kelly replied to the minister saying: “Congestion problems on the A1 also threaten the ability to achieve the identified need for significant growth in the supply of housing in the corridor. This is seen as a major constraint in bringing forward a number of major sites, including a possible development area for 3,000 homes on land close to the Metrocentre.
“The only alternative option being to develop less sustainable green belt sites which I am sure we would all wish to avoid.”
He added: “Available land in the Team Valley area suggests this has the potential to increase employment by a further 4,000 jobs if existing problems relating to access can be overcome.”
Last night council leader Mick Henry backed his chief executive.
Mr Henry said: “The case for this is absolutely clear, it would provide a much needed boost to the economy and open up potential new jobs. It would speed up transport links for businesses and it could provide much needed housing.
“The route is planned, the land is there, but it needs the investment and go-ahead from the Government to make it happen. “Improving the A1 is a lifeline for industry, retail and housing in the region. We’ve just celebrated the 75th anniversary of Team Valley Trading Estate and the 25th anniversary of Metrocentre – if we want to see them both thriving and providing employment in another 25 years, then we need to make these investments now.”
Mr Kelly and other councils’ bosses have now offered to meet Department for Transport officials to go over the need for investment.
The long-term aim for the road is to have a relief road built running parallel to the A1 from Lobley Hill to the A184 to take local traffic off the A1 between two closely spaced junctions.
Transport bosses in Tyneside also propose closing the A1 northbound exit at the Dunston junction.
In his letter to Gateshead Council Mr Penning said: “At the end of this year the department will be taking a view on the allocation of development funds for future schemes.
“This will see a small investment in a number of schemes to progress pre-construction work.”