A1 DUALLING campaigners have given a cautious welcome to the news that potential improvements to the route from Berwick to Morpeth are being re-examined by the government.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg revealed on his visit to Berwick on Friday that the Department for Transport is looking at the options, with an announcement expected in March.
Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith said: “If we are serious about keeping this country together as a United Kingdom, then the dualling of the main east coast link between Newcastle and Edinburgh has to be a priority.
“I am encouraged that Danny Alexander, the transport secretary, has made a small amount of funding available for the Department for Transport to re-examine the issue and look at possible improvements.”
The stretch of single carriageway between Mousen Bends and Adderstone, south of Belford, and between Morpeth and Felton where preliminary work was carried out several years ago are seen as the most likely candidates.
Although Mr Clegg stopped short of promising that the A1 will be fully upgraded to dual carriageway, he said he was well aware of the strength of feeling on the issue.
“I don’t have a magic wand, and I don’t come bearing an absolute guarantee dualling will happen,” he said. “But what I can tell you is Danny Alexander has been doing excellent work with the Department for Transport, looking at the business case, and there will be an outcome from that in March. That’s an important step. I don’t know where it will lead, we have to be led by the evidence.
“I entirely understand that this is something that everyone wants to see happen. I’m acutely aware of the strength of feeling here, and I totally understand this is an umbilical cord for the region. It’s an absolutely vital route south on which so many families and businesses depend.”
However, doubt has been cast on his comments by A1 Action Group founder Anne-Marie Trevelyan.
“I would be absolutely thrilled if that was the case but my understanding is that the Department for Transport is not yet looking at the A1 north of Newcastle,” she said.
“As far as I’m aware it has not set in motion a feasibility study or detailed business case review of our part of the A1 so even if the treasury did have a £50m pot of money it would not be able to progress it at this stage.
“My concern is that Mr Clegg was getting mixed up with the strategic roads review due out this spring which now includes the A1 north of Newcastle as a result of our campaigning.”
Meanwhile, the North East Chamber of Commerce and CBI have called for the 40mph speed limit on HGVs on single carriageway sections of the route to be increased to 60mph to help ignite regional economic growth.
NECC chief executive James Ramsbotham said: “As a trading region with the best export record in the country, it is critical that the north east continues to develop its connections to key markets in the UK and overseas.
Richard Simpson, a director at Simpsons Malt, said: “Our wagons are restricted to 40mph and I think it causes a lot of frustration to other road users.
“Dualling the A1 would speed up our journeys. In any 24 hours we have at least four wagons going up to Edinburgh and back. It certainly seems to be a lot easier going in that direction than it is going south.
“There is the safety aspect to consider too. We hear scare stories from our drivers about people getting so frustrated they attempt to overtake. They get quite a lot of grief about their speed as well, even though 40mph is all they are meant to be going.”
Highcliffe man Alex Gibson, who collected an 11,000 signature petition calling for dualling, insists that safety is the priority.
“I’m a pensioner who lost a son on this stretch of road and that’s the reason why I’m campaigning,” he said. “When I was collecting those signatures nobody ever mentioned the investment, business, jobs it would create, all they wanted was a better road.”
Jim Lillie added: “I was involved in a head-on accident on the single carriageway one mile north of Alnwick on January 18 when I was travelling home to Berwick. If the A1 had been dualled then the car that lost control travelling south would not have slammed into me but would have hit the central crash barrier.”