North East 'could face a skilled labour crisis' unless A1 work starts now

Civil Engineering Contractors’ Association says HS2 could drain the region of skilled workers unless major A1 work gets going now

Chris Radburn/PA Wire Prime Minister David Cameron during a tour of construction works
Prime Minister David Cameron during a tour of construction works

Long-awaited upgrades to the A1 north of Newcastle could be stalled if David Cameron’s ‘roads revolution’ drains the region of skilled labourers, it has been claimed.

Pressure is mounting on the Prime Minister to outline exactly what is planned for the A1 north of Newcastle, after he claimed ‘improvements’ will be among £15bn of planned infrastructure work.

The Coalition has been urged to get shovels in the ground immediately or major projects elsewhere - such as HS2 and a string of road upgrades in the South - could drag workers from the region.

Civil Engineering Contractors’ Association (North East) director Douglas Kell, said: “Without launching new major projects now - like ending the unacceptable situation where the North East remains the only region without a motorway throughout and starting on Sunderland’s new bridge proposed across the Wear at Sunderland – the drain to the South of skilled labour trained and financed by North East firms will go on.”

Mr Kell said the recession saw 25,000 North East construction jobs disappear while projects such as the South East’s Crossrail and HS2 enjoy public funding simply unmatched in this region.

He added: “Aside from the scenario of even more North East breadwinners having to work away from their families and roots for long periods, and the North East being faced unnecessarily with higher building costs, the industry in our region already has to find around 14,000 to maintain the workforce at a static level over the next five years.

“Even the Government’s welcome talk about major development for city regions and improved railway services in the North of England seems presently to stop at Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Hull.”

Campaigners who fought for decades for the A1 to be dualled in its entirety are also questioning if development will be piecemeal and if any new money is available.

Nick Forbes
Nick Forbes
 

Councillor Nick Forbes, transport lead for the North East Combined Authority, said: “It is vital that we have some major government funding on infrastructure projects in the North East to retain a critical level of construction and engineering jobs.

“We need that capacity in order to grow in the future and I am seriously concerned about the loss of jobs to the South, which would further inhibit the North East’s ability to recover.”

Calls for more information on the A1 work were also made by Penny Marshall, regional director of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

She said: “News that the Prime Minister is prioritising the upgrading of the A1 north of Newcastle is something we also welcome; it has been a long time in coming and would play a significant part in the region’s integrated transport system.

“We await more detail, such as how much, if any, of the upgrade will involve making the road dual carriageway. It is important now for the Government to lay out a time frame for this work, as well as the scope of the project, and stick to that.”

Sir Alan Beith, MP for Berwick, said the route must be dualled. He said: “I have campaigned over many years for upgrades to the A1 know what a long battle we are fighting and with severe pressure on the country’s finances we need to keep up the pressure on the Government to get the improvements we want.”

North East Chamber of Commerce policy and research manager, Mark Stephenson, added: “To secure investment in this important route through Northumberland after so many years of lobbying by businesses and communities along the A1 is a step forward although we await detail on the extent of the investment.

“It is a decision that could pay dividends in our region and North of the Border.

“The North East is the closest English region to Scotland’s economic heartbeat and better links with Edinburgh and its industrial hub can only be of benefit.”

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