The long-awaited dualling of the A1 will go ahead - but in stages, a senior Treasury Minister has indicated.
Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, told The Journal that his goal was to improve the entire road between Newcastle and Scotland, but this may not be possible in one go.
Instead, the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement on December 3 would reveal how the work would be “phased”, he suggested.
Mr Alexander, second-in-command at the Treasury and one of the most senior Liberal Democrats at Westminster, was speaking after it was revealed the Highways Agency had warned dualling the entire route to Scotland could cost up to £1.2bn.
He said the Government was planning “the largest programme of road investment since the 1970s” because lack of investment in roads had held back regional economies.
Mr Alexander said he could not reveal the details of the Autumn Statement but dropped heavy hints that it would include funding for upgrades to the A1.
Mr Alexander said: “Personally I want to go as far as I possibly can on the A1. Of course there are constraints, financial constraints, other people’s priorities and so on.
“But it seems to me that this might take a long time to do, but what you really want is the A1 to be a connection that runs from England to Scotland and back again at a high standard over the whole route.
“That would be a good thing for the economy of Scotland and the economy of England, and the North East of England.
“That to me is the right ambition for the route.
“Precisely which bits we are able to do when and how that gets phased - those are good questions which you will find out the answers to in the Autumn Statement.”
Sir Alan Beith, Berwick’s sitting Lib Dem MP, had raised the A1 with him many times, Mr Alexander said.
“Alan Beith does not allow a single conversation to go by without mentioning the A1,” he said.
“Last time I went to Northumberland he drove me along the relevant sections of the A1 to point out just how difficult some of these bits were.
“And obviously it’s also a key route for connecting England and Scotland together. So it has a wider importance as a key connection within the United Kingdom.”
He added: “I hope that those people who have been campaigning for this, I think in his case all four decades of his time in Parliament, will not be disappointed.”