Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has admitted that there is “a very compelling case” to improve the A1 south of Berwick.
Speaking to the Berwick Advertiser during a visit to Berwick last week, when he took a tour of local business Simpsons Malt, Mr Osborne said he intended to find out more about the A1 while he was in the area.
He was due to stop alongside the road with Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Berwick and director of the ‘Dual the A1’ campaign Anne-Marie Trevelyan, to see for himself why upgrades to the single carriageway stretches are so desperately needed.
“Talking to the team here at Simpsons it’s clearly their number one issue, and that’s why, on the back of Anne-Marie’s campaign, we’ve commissioned the feasibility study,” he said.
“I’m not going to prejudge the study which is going to come to it’s conclusions later this year, but the reason I’m here is partly to find out more.
“I’ve just been driving along the A1, and after this I’m going to see it and talk about it in greater detail, about what we can do to make it a much better road.
“Personally I think there is a very compelling case for doing something with the A1, but I have to operate on the basis of the facts and the study that is being done.
“I‘m going to wait for the outcome, but the very fact we’ve had this study is in itself a huge advance on where we were before.”
The feasibility study, commissioned by the Department for Transport, is currently underway to closely examine the evidence in support of A1 dualling. The findings will be presented to central government, and if strict value-for-money criteria are met, funding could finally be released to upgrade the undualled sections of the road.
Ms Trevelyan said that dualling the A1 through Northumberland was “vital”, not only to the local economy, but also in terms of safety.
“The benefits that a fully dualled A1 could bring would be felt both north and south of the border, so it must remain a key strategic aim,” she said.
“That’s why I was delighted that the Chancellor accepted my invitation to come and see for himself the potential that is waiting to be unleashed.
“Keeping the issue high on the Government’s agenda is my number one priority and this visit shows that we are making progress, but we must continue to make the case for a better deal and a fully dualled A1.”
Mr Osborne was in town to announce a new £22.5m fund to support business growth in the North East, with special focus on rural communities.
The programme, which will operate across rural Northumberland as well as County Durham and Gateshead, will operate for five years from 2015.
Investments will be made through two grant funds; the Small Business Growth Fund and the Economic Infrastructure Fund.
These will fund the development of workspaces; the creation of rural ‘enterprise hubs’; investment in tourist attractions and accommodation; and investment in new equipment to help small business grow.
The money will be allocated over five years and be made up of £6 million government funding, private sector investment of £9.5 million and £7 million of European funding.
“This new rural enterprise grant is going to help small businesses here grow,” Mr Osborne said.
“Of course, big business like Simpsons Malt have lots of small businesses working in their supply chain, and in a rural county like this, this £22m fund - the first of its kind in the country - is going to be a real boost.
“It’s something that Anne Marie has raised with me, what we could do to support rural businesses around Berwick, and this fund is going to do that.”