UPDATE: PM says work starts now to upgrade the A1

Prime Minister David Cameron at Ferguson's Transport in Cramlington
Prime Minister David Cameron at Ferguson's Transport in Cramlington

The Prime Minister has said the work to upgrade the A1 throughout Northumberland ‘starts now’ during a visit to the county.

David Cameron was at Fergusons Transport depot at Cramlington this morning following the announcemment of the £290million package to upgrade stretches of the road which will result in dual carriageway from Morpeth to Ellingham.

But the stretch from Ellingham to Berwick will not be dualled – instead there will be enhancements to this section, including overtaking lanes, junction improvements and better crossings for pedestrians and cyclists.

Asked by the Gazette about timescales and the worry that funding had been signed off, but nothing would happen, the Prime Minister said: “That’s absolutely my concern. We don’t build roads as quickly as they do in China, because we’re a democracy and we have to go through all the proper procedures.

“I have made it clear to the Highways Agency that they can start spending the money today on the preparations necessary. They believe they will be able to get this started during the next Parliament. On the improvements north of Ellingham, they may be able to get started faster in terms of overtaking lanes.

“The work starts now, the money’s available now and they can get moving from today.”

Mr Cameron was keen to emphasise the boost this would provide to the regional economy, despite disappointment in some quarters that the dualling will not extend all the way through north Northumberland.

“It’s a very good news story and it’s a significant investment – £290million on the dualling and the other improvements. Every part is getting improvements,” he said.

“I want to see a rebalanced economy. We want to make sure that the North East benefits from the economic growth that the country’s now seeing. Having good transport links is absolutely vital.

“This is about the North East economy, North East jobs and livelihoods, it’s about making sure everyone benefits from our long-term economic plan.

“It creates jobs because it involves building work and construction which is directly creating jobs, but the real jobs it creates is because it makes the economy of the North East stronger and more connected.

“This is a real boost for the North East as a region. Connecting up areas of the country with modern infrastructure is a proven jobs creator.”

So given those benefits, why is the dualling not being extended further than Ellingham?

“We have to look at the value-for-money case and what should be done,” Mr Cameron said, referring to the £350million investment in the Western bypass and £290million on this project.

“As a long-term ambition, I can see why so many people would like to see dual carriageway all the way, but let’s be happy with the news we have got today.”

Mr Cameron was also asked about the fact that Business Secretary Vince Cable and the Lib Dems were holding their own announcement elsewhere in the county.

“This is a really big moment for the North East,” he said. “The more politicians that come here and talk about this road being built, the improvements being made, the transport infrastructure going in, the more the better.”

But who should get credit for the decision – is it the Tories or the Lib Dems?

“I have always seen this as something people of all parties as well as business and other local interests have campaigned for,” the Prime Minister said.

“What I would reflect on is that after 13 years of a Labour Government, this didn’t get done and after four-and-a-half years of a Conservative-led Government it’s now got the green light and I will let the people draw their own conclusions from that.”