Northumberland A1 Dualling: Looking back at decades of delay as Government push back long-awaited decision again
Ever since 1990, when the A1 in Yorkshire was brought up to motorway standard, there has been hope that it would be dualled up to the Scottish border.
But more than three decades later, residents living north of Morpeth are still waiting for a firm answer on whether the work will ever actually be given the green light as successive Governments have failed to deliver.
The deadline for a decision has now been pushed back to June 2024 - almost 10 years after then-chancellor George Osborne gave the scheme the go-ahead. We've rounded up all the significant events related to the project that have happened since 1990.
1990: Neville Trotter, the former Conservative MP for Tynemouth, won backing from the then Conservative Government to bring the road through Yorkshire up to motorway standard. It was hoped this would pave the way for dualling up to the Scottish border.
1996: On the campaign trail, Labour leader Tony Blair said he would be “very happy” to see an upgrade on the A1. He said: “Now I can’t give commitments to particular roads and so forth, but everybody knows, particularly on the A1, what needs to be done . . . I would be very happy to see this dualled.”
2002: A major study decided there was not enough traffic to justify an upgrade. Berwick Lib Dem MP Alan Beith said: “The study’s rejection of dualling the whole length of the A1 flies in the face not only of local opinion but also of business throughout the North East and the Borders.”
2002: Then-Labour transport minister John Spellar unveiled details of a £263m scheme to upgrade 29 miles of the A1 in Yorkshire from two lanes to three - but not to dual the A1 in the North East. He tells Parliament: “We are currently considering the recommendations of the A1 multi-modal study and we will make a statement in due course.”
2003: Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Tom Collins, said on a visit to the region: “I am persuaded that the A1 is an important priority. I can’t say it will be done in the first year of a Conservative Government, but a powerful case has been made to me today.”
2004: Labour’s Alastair Darling, in his role as Transport Secretary, defended the decision not to upgrade the whole of the A1. He said: “Remember there are other things which can be done. Money can be spent on encouraging people to drive safely.”
2005: Tim Yeo, then the Conservatives’ transport spokesman, promised the Tories would dual the road if elected. It later transpired there was no timescale or money for the project. Later the same year, ex-Labour MP Joyce Quin, later to become Baroness Quin, said: “We certainly want an end to the dangerous mixture of dual and single carriageways on the A1 in particular, where horrendous accidents have occurred.”
2006: A Government programme shifted responsibility for the road to local decision makers - but kept back the funds needed to dual it and upgrade other roads. Tony Blair said at the time: “We have not been able to find the money for the upgrade yet.”(Image: Lewis Whyld/PA Wire)
Later that year, Tony Blair told the CBI in the region: “For us as a Government we have made big investment in transport but in this region particularly we need to continue to make investments in the major trunk roads into the region, such as the A1.”
2007: Sir Ming Campbell, Lib Dem leader, supported a petition on the A1, saying: “I welcome the petition and, as my colleague Alan Beith has been assiduous in promoting this case, I am happy to support it,” while then-leadership contender Nick Clegg said: “An upgrade to the A1 is simply vital.” However, Labour refused to commit to upgrading the A1, despite their new leader Gordon Brown putting infrastructure at the heart of his campaign.
Furthermore, Theresa Villiers, Tory shadow transport secretary, refused to back A1 dualling said: “Closer to the election, I hope to be able to give clearer indications on specific schemes but we haven’t got there yet.”
2008: David Cameron says: “The current situation is unacceptable. The A1 remains over-congested despite promises of expansion.” He committed to upgrading the Western Bypass and says there is a “good chance” the A1 itself will be upgraded.
2009: New transport minister Sadiq Khan ruled out dualling the A1 weeks after taking up the role, saying: “The case for the A1 north of Newcastle is not robust enough.”
2010: Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown sends a letter to campaigners admitting there was little chance of dualling the road. He wrote that there was “no case to justify the necessary investment needed” from national funds.
2010: The Tories once again pledge to dual the A1 if elected. Theresa Villiers said: “The state of the public finances puts real constraints on what is affordable . . . but today’s decision by the Conservatives properly recognises the A1’s importance as a North-South route and opens up the possibility of funding from the national pot.”
2011: Transport Minister Mike Penning is forced to admit the Tories have done nothing towards dualling the A1 since they took power in 2010. “This Government have not considered any specific proposals to upgrade the A1 north of Newcastle,” he said. Also in 2011, the A1 from Newcastle to the Scottish border was made a route of strategic national importance - but no new funding materialised.
2012: Tory Whip Earl Attlee tells the House of Lords that drivers should use the M6 via Carlisle to reach Scotland - a 30 mile detour. “I confess that I did not actually drive the route. I did look on the map and I used the excellent AA route planner to see what the difference in time for the two would be,” he added, when questioned. Later, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said he has “instinctive sympathy” for long-running calls for full dualling of the A1 through Northumberland.
2013: Treasury MP Greg Clark said on a visit to the region: “You can’t export if you can’t transport goods, it’s that simple and I’m impressed by the case for the A1 .”
Later that year, Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, announces plans to improve the A1 in Northumberland as part of a £100bn infrastructure spending programme, saying: “Our commitment to the A1 north of Newcastle will be a significant investment in the North East’s economy” - but does not guarantee dualling.
2014: Chancellor George Osborne says the case for the A1 has been heard “loud and clear” in the House of Commons after he receives a petition to dual the A1 from Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Berwick seat candidate and long-term campaigner
December 2014 - Prime Minister David Cameron visited Northumberland to unveil the new, £290 million plan to dual the A1 between Morpeth and Ellingham. The news was welcomed by local residents who had spent decades campaigning. Mr Cameron said: "Upgrading the A1 is a crucial part of our long term economic plan for the North of England."
March 2015 - Mayor of London Boris Johnson said the Conservative Party were "throwing the kitchen sink" at winning the Berwick-upon-Tweed constituency from the Lib Dems in the upcoming election. Praising Tory candidate Anne-Marie Trevelyan for her campaigning, Mr Johnson said done a "blinding job", adding: "You need someone who can get things done for the area and represent it strongly.”
Asked whether more money was available for the remainder of the road, he said: “We do need to dual it all and we are working on that. That is why we have to get Anne-Marie into Parliament because she will make that campaign heard.”
April 2015 - Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin insisted the North East was given a “fair share of the cake” when it came to infrastructure investment. He added that a a bid to dual the A1 in its entirety would be considered under a Conservative Government, but that this would only take place once the road was dualled to Ellingham. He did admit that he thought the case would "become compelling".
May 2015 - The Conservatives win the 2015 General Election with a majority of 10 seats. Among the newly elected MPs is Berwick's Anne-Marie Trevelyan, following the retirement of the long-serving Liberal Democrat MP Alan Beith.
July 2015 - Highways England said it would be looking at the feasibility study carried out for the A1 dualling project, “consulting with key stakeholders”, and that “traffic and environmental surveys will begin this year with construction of the A1 North of Ellingham enhancements in advance of the dualling scheme which is planned to start in 2018.”
The Government-owned body said it was "committed to starting construction as soon as we can".
August 2015 - Roads Minister Andrew Jones visited the A1 north of Northumberland to see where the much-anticipated £291 million dualling of the A1 would take place. He said the latter part of the plan is expected to begin in 2018 while the road dualling will begin before the end of this parliament in 2020.(Image: PA)
November 2015 - Writing for ChronicleLive, George Osborne reiterated his plan to spend £13 billion across the Northern powerhouse, including upgrading the A1 from Morpeth to Ellingham.
May 2016 - Highways England published plans to improve the 13-mile section between Morpeth and Ellingham by creating a dual carriageway. A series of public engagement events were announced across Northumberland to explore several different options.
Highways England Project Manager Nanette Hoyle said: This is an opportunity to drive economic growth and unlock a key route in the North East."
August 2016 - Anne-Marie Trevelyan wrote to new transport secretary Chris Grayling, demanding more funding to improve the "dangerous stretch" of the A1. The Berwick MP was concerned the work did not go as far as Mousen Bends, which she said had a "high rate of accidents and near misses".
The DfT said any further improvements to the A1 would not be considered before 2020, but added: " “We are making the biggest investment in our roads for a generation, committing £290m for significant improvements to the A1."
October 2016 - Facing more calls to dual the road up to Mousen Bends, Highways England again said it was planning to start work on upgrading the A1 in Northumberland to a dual carriageway in 2020.
November 2016 - Highways England revealed updated plans for the work following public consultation. Nanette Hoyle, the A1 in Northumberland project manager, said: "We are also proposing several improvements north of Ellingham such as junction improvements and overtaking sections." Work was expected to be completed in 2023.(Image: PA)
January 2017 - Chirs Grayling said the A1 would be dualled from Northumberland all the way to Scotland - but admitted there was no firm timetable for improvement. He said a project to dual the whole road would be "chaos" but said dualling the A1 continued to be "a priority".
February 2017 - Officials insisted that the project to dual the A1 was still going ahead despite reports the long-awaited project was under threat. It had been reported by The Times that upgrades to England’s busiest motorways could be scrapped or postponed because of an £800 million shortfall in the government’s road-building programme.
However, Highways England Chief Executive Jim O’Sullivan said in a statement: "We are confident we will deliver this large programme without overspending our budget."
March 2017 - The National Audit Office warned 16 upgrades to England's busiest roads needed to be reconsidered by the summer to ensure they were "deliverable and affordable”. Among those upgrades identified to be potentially scrapped was thought to be the scheme to dual the A1, although none were named.
September 2017 - Highways England unveiled its preferred options for the scheme. Between Morpeth and Felton, a new carriageway would be built to the west of the existing road between Priest’s Bridge and Burgham Park. Meanwhile, the existing road between Alnwick and Ellingham will be upgraded to a dual carriageway, either by widening the east or west of the current road.
Anne-Marie Trevelyan said it was "fantastic news" and added: "It is a proud moment for me to see the plan coming together and to show that this dualling is really happening.”
June 2018 - The plans were said to be reaching their "final stages", with the public set to be invited to have their say on the detailed plans.
February 2019 - A second consultation with the public was launched ahead of Highways England applying for planning permission to dual the carriageway. Officials said that, subject to full permission being granted, the work from Morpeth is set to start in 2020, with the Alnwick to Ellingham works beginning in 2021.
March 2019 - Mark Stoneman, Highways England's project manager for the A1 in Northumberland, said he will "help support the case" for dualling the rest of the route in the county. It was expected a large-scale planning application known as a development consent order (DCO) would be submitted towards the end of 2019. This time-scale would mean that construction starts in 2021 for completion in 2023.
January 2020 - Dominic Cummings, chief advisor to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, said he wanted to get the A1 dualled in "record time". In a personal blog post calling for "great project managers" to join the Government, adding: "If you think you are such a company and you could dual carriageway the A1 north of Newcastle in record time, then get in touch!"(Image: PA)
March 2020 - Chancellor Rishi Sunak's budget said the Treasury expected to spend £700 million on on major road schemes in the North East between 2020 and 2025, including building the A1 Morpeth to Ellingham.
July 2020 - A DCO was submitted by Highways England covering the entire stretch of the A1 from Morpeth to Ellingham.
August 2020 - Transport Secretary Grant Schapps launched a specialist "acceleration unit" intended to help speed up the delivery of transport projects across the country - including, it was believed, the A1 in Northumberland. Work was set to start on the scheme in 2022, with an estimated finish date of between 2024 and 2025.
November 2021 - Bosses on the project predicted work could be completed by 2024 - but travel chiefs were still waiting on a decision from the government's planning inspectorate on whether the scheme should be given the green light.
Stuart Culley, community engagement manager at Costain - a contractor appointed to the road upgrade - said: “We're expecting the inspector's decision in January 2022, following which there will be a cooling off period, allowing for the start of works in the summer. We're looking to to get the scheme open for traffic in 2024/25.”
January 2022 - Bosses insisted the work to dual the A1 would not be held up despite a five-month delay to the Government's decision. The planning permission, expected to be given on January 5, was delayed until June 5.
Mark Stoneman, National Highways project manager, said: "A decision is now expected in early June 2022 which would still allow us to start construction this summer as planned.”
June 2022 - The Government delayed the decision once again, this time until December 5 2022.(Image: PA)
August 2022 - Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak - the two Conservative candidates to become Prime Minister, both pledged to finally push ahead with the delayed dualling of the A1 in Northumberland if they entered Number 10.
Speaking to Tory Party members at a Hustings in Darlington, Ms Truss vowed that as Prime Minister she would have the A1 dualled “from top to bottom”. And as Mr Sunak faced questions from the audience at the Darlington Hippodrome later in the night, the former Chancellor was asked what he would do to improve the North East’s road network.(Image: PA)
Mr Sunak said: "I know it is something really important, it is something we put in our manifesto and something as Chancellor that I, in theory, signed off on the funding for. But I know recently there has been some issue and the Transport Secretary is having another look at those plans. “I am not sure what the issue is, but as Prime Minister I can certainly commit to you that I will go and figure out quickly what the situation is because I would like to see the A1 dualled."
September 2022 - The Government said it would look to accelerate a list of infrastructure projects as part of Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng's controversial Growth Plan 2022, dubbed the "mini budget". Among them was the dualling of a 23 mile stretch of the A1 in Northumberland between Morpeth and Ellingham.
The project was also boosted by the news that Anne Marie Trevelyan had been made transport secretary by new Prime Minister Liz Truss.
October 2022 - Anne Marie Trevelyan reiterated her pledge to deliver the project at the Conservative Party Conference. In a speech, Ms Trevelyan said: "Speaking as the Member of Parliament who has campaigned for dualling the A1 – a road improvement first promised in 1992 - and was elected on that promise, delivering on our promises is firmly on my mind.”
However, by the end of the month, Liz Truss had resigned, and Ms Trevelyan was succeeded by Mark Harper as transport secretary under new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. The Berwick MP was in office for a total of 49 days.
The Government had previously failed to say exactly how it would speed up the dualling of the A1, and said The DfT said that the review of the A1 dualling plan was “still ongoing”.
December 2022 - The planning inspectorate confirmed there had been another delay in the secretary of state's decision. Local councillors pleaded with the DfT to 'put them out of their misery' - but the department did not issue a statement. Later that month, the decision was delayed until September 5 2023.
June 2023 - A Freedom of Information Request by the Local Democracy Reporting Service found that there had been 129 accidents on the two single-carriageway sections of the A1 in Northumberland since the start of 2019. Of these, 32 were deemed as "serious" by police and five resulted in fatalities.
August 2023 - The DfT confirmed it would provide an update on the A1 in September - but campaigners feared there would be further delays.
September 2023 - The Government confirmed it would be delaying the decision a further nine months, leading to a furious reaction from across Northumberland and the wider North East.