So what happens now? A huge milestone for the Dual the A1 Campaign but there is more to do.
Last Monday, the Prime Minister, David Cameron MP came up to North Northumberland to announce that £290m will be committed for a major upgrade of the A1 road north of Morpeth. This was confirmed by the Chancellor, George Osborne MP in his Autumn Statement on Wednesday, as part of £3 billion of investment into North East roads.
We will be building 13 miles of modern dual cariageway - 8 miles of it from Morpeth to Felton, then a further 5 miles of it from Alnwick to the Brownieside dual carriageway section, both stretches which have continued to have the highest accident rates.
We will also be building 3 mile-long stretches of overtaking lanes on the longest hill climbs north of Ellingham, to help educe the tail-gating problems caused by slow lorries or farm vehicles.
We will also see key junctions improved, again to help improve safety and traffic flows.
This is a significant investment and fantastic progress after decades of inactivity and neglect.
When I launched the Dual the A1 Campaign back in 2007, there were those who laughed at me and said it would never make any progress, that nobody cared about us up here. By 2011 we had made a strong enough case for the Transport Secretary to agree to reclassify this stretch of road back into the National Road Network, and in 2013 were given funding for a feasibility study to review all our work on safety and the economics of investing here.
We have worked closely as a campaign team with the departmental officials throughout the year to help them with economic data and links to businesses who have spoken up about the economic benefits that dualling will undoubtedly bring.
I have always made it clear that our campaign's ultimate aim was for full dualling from Morpeth
to the Scottish Border, so whilst we celebrate this great news and recognise that we have come an incredibly long way in changing Government's mind completely, we now move to the next phase of the campaign.
I am committed to carrying on our campaigning efforts, first to get this £290 million spent and tarmac down for 16 miles of new roads, and then to start to build the case for the remainder of the undualled road.
My co-founder of the Dual the A1 Campaign, John Lamont MSP, across the Border, has worked with me in lobbying the Scottish Government on the A1 and is now calling on the Holyrood Government to follow Westminster's lead and commit resources to dual the A1 between Dunbar and Berwick.
I feel the need to use the cliché that “Rome was not built in a day” and as the Prime Minister said, we are not China, the state cannot just run roughshod over rights and steamroll this through. There will be planning applications to be made and proper processes followed. Through compulsory purchase arrangements, landowners will be fairly compensated for parts of their land, predominantly sections of fields, being used for the road extensions. I also anticipate that there will be some issues raised to do with animal habitats and rare plant and species protection. I am meeting with environmental groups to make sure we link in all the stakeholders as early on in the process as possible.
The Dual the A1 Campaign has had many messages of support and appreciation particularly from businesses and drivers who regularly use the A1. On Wednesday, when we unveiled our banner “£290m to get started, thank you George”, a succession of lorries and other vehicles tooted their horns in appreciation and recognition at this achievement.
To those who have expressed disappointment that the announcement did not involve full dualling up to Berwick, I emphasise that this is, and always has been, the ultimate goal of the Dual the A1 Campaign, that there will be safety and other improvements made all the way up to the border, which will probably be the work which commences first, and everyone in the region will benefit from this investment in our road.
The Dual the A1 team, who lobbied the government to launch the feasibility study, a necessary first step, had to present our argument based on hard economic facts. My campaign team and I have built the case as strongly as we could on the economics which is the only thing which would sway the Government. The Chief Secretary of the Treasury, LibDem Danny Alexander has said that the (current) case for dualling the entire A1 “would not have stood up to scrutiny”.
Now we must encourage business investment into Alnwick & Berwick to help prove that investors believe in the town and its economic future. The investment so far committed will reduce unpredictability of journey times and accident blackspots are being tackled, so this is a significant improvement.
The investment has to be justifiable - it is after all taxpayers money and the country is still running at a deficit after the economic crisis. The levels of HGV traffic on the northern stretch beyond Alnwick fall away dramatically so we have to work on building this up with the improvements in place.
We will be carrying on, both to get the work underway as quickly as possible and to keep building the case for the northern stretch, and working with the Scottish Government now for the 8 miles north of the border to Dunbar.
This campaigner is in it for the long haul !
For more information on the Dual the A1 Campaign contact Anne-Marie Trevelyan on
email@example.com or 07970 653 258