5 September, 2023
Northumberland Gazette, by Ian Smith
The Department for Transport (DfT) was due to announce a decision today (Tuesday) on the proposed upgrade of a 13-mile section between Morpeth and Ellingham.
It is the fourth time a final decision on the Development Consent Order required for National Highways to proceed with the scheme has been delayed.
In a written statement to Parliament, Huw Merriman MP, on behalf of Transport Secretary Mark Harper, revealed: “It has been necessary to extend the deadline for the decision for the A1 in Northumberland – Morpeth to Ellingham Development Consent Order.
“The deadline for the decision is to be further extended to 5 June 2024 (an extension of 9 months).
“In addition to the reason for the extension set out in the written ministerial statement on 6 December 2022, the extension will allow further time to consider any matters relevant to the application.
“The decision to set a new deadline is without prejudice to the decision on whether to give development consent for the above application.”
In 2014, the government promised to spent £290m on dualling the 13 mile section of single carriagway – eight miles between Morpeth and Felton and a further five miles between Alnwick and Ellingham.
Sam Richards founder and campaign director of Britain Remade, said: “After nine years of dither, this further delay to dualling the A1 between Morpeth and Ellingham is a devastating blow for the people of Northumberland, the wider North East of England, and the whole of Britain.
“This stretch of the A1 is one of the few parts of Britain’s longest road that is still a single lane - causing traffic chaos for everyone that relies on it. Dualling is crucial for cutting congestion and journey times between Newcastle and Edinburgh, while boosting growth and local jobs.
“Delaying this decision by a further nine months will cost the region and the country dearly.
“There is still time for Mark Harper the Transport Secretary to do the right thing and pick up his pen, today, and sign the consent order – delivering on the promise made all those years ago by David Cameron.
“If we want to tackle climate change the answer is not kicking major road building schemes into the long grass or cutting them altogether.
“Instead of delaying major road building projects, we need to crack on with schemes like the A1 and line them with a plentiful supply of charging stations to make it easier for drivers to switch to clean electric vehicles.”
A decision was originally due in January 2022, which was then pushed back twice – first to June and then again to December, before finally being delayed nine months until the September 5 deadline.
Cllr Gordon Castle, Alnwick ward member on Northumberland County Council, said: “I am beginning to share the widespread scepticism about this long-awaited project ever taking place.
"I have done my share of strongly worded emails to government ministers and do wonder if they realise that this announcement adds substantially to public mistrust.
"It is frankly outrageous to have spent over £60m already on a key manifesto commitment pushed back year after year onto the back burners.
"The best I can say is that at least it is not cancelled, but the decision should have been made as promised by one government minister, and Prime Minister, after another.”
Anne-Marie Trevelyan, MP for the Berwick-upon-Tweed constituency, said: “After years campaigning to dual the A1, I share the real disappointment that this further delay means that dualling won’t happen as quickly as we all need and want it to.
“None of this is great; today’s road is a hazard, the distance to our nearest A&E makes dualling the A1 a matter of life or death and, of course, dualling is essential for our economic development in north Northumberland.
“All the same, I’m hopeful too – strategic and local road investment remains a manifesto commitment and, unlike some projects, it isn’t being cancelled, or delayed until 2030.
“We’re on the hard shoulder, not at the end of the road – and you can believe that I’m on the phone to the DfT.
“While I do understand the challenges they face, be in no doubt I’ll be tailgating ministers for this final stretch of the road. Together, we can signal the Secretary of State how strongly we need and want this dualled, please sign my petition and share it with your friends, family and neighbours, at teamtrevelyan.co.uk/a1”
Cllr Glen Sanderson, leader of Northumberland County Council, said: “Having been involved with so many others campaigning to see this road dualled I am not just disappointed but surprised - so much preparation has taken place and money already spent - it seems to me the wrong conclusion to reach.
“That said, the door is still open and I will continue to lobby the Government for the sake of everyone who uses this road.
“There should not be a line on a map which decides who gets how much to spend on roads so Scotland's part of the A1 should stretch past the Border.
“Thousands of vehicles use the road and pay very large amounts of road tax - they deserve and must have a road for the age in which we live not one from the fifties.”
Cllr Scott Dickinson, Northumberland Labour Group leader, said: “For well over a decade now, people in north Northumberland have been misled and promised work that simply hasn’t come to fruition.
“We’ve had various Tory PMs and ministers stand smiling at the side of the road promising dualling with the local MP – yet despite whole election campaigns, election after election being built on it, we’ve not seen the improvement works promised as an interim, let alone the full dualling work.
“It’s all getting a little desperate. People have left their homes, vacated land all in anticipation, some nearly 10 years ago.
“I would say we need a definitive answer from the government on when and a firm commitment, but I really don’t think people will believe anything that’s said anymore.”
Morpeth Chamber of Trade chairman Ken Stait said: “It’s not a surprise because it seems that the green light for this project invariably doesn’t happen.
“Promises are made at election times, but they never get to the delivery point.
“Dualling the A1 in Northumberland would have a major economic impact on the county as at the moment, it’s a real battle dealing with the traffic on the single carriageway sections.
“Quite often, the traffic is at a standstill. This leads to frustration and a higher number of accidents than there should be in a largely rural county.”
Cllr Martin Gannon, chairman of the North East Joint Transport Committee, said: “The A1 Morpeth to Ellingham dualling scheme is greatly needed to improve connectivity, safety and journey times on this strategic route for the north.
“Sadly, this further delay doesn’t come as much of a surprise following a frustratingly drawn-out process. We will work with partners to seek clarification from Government on how we can break this stagnated stage and get on with delivering this vital scheme for our region.”