Transport Infrastructure: North-east England — Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:52 pm on 23rd January 2012.

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Photo of Lord Walton of Detchant Lord Walton of Detchant Crossbench 2:52 pm, 23rd January 2012

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they considered including in the Chancellor of the Exchequer's autumn Statement funding for transport infrastructure projects in north-east England in addition to the proposed upgrade of the Tyne and Wear Metro; and, in particular, whether they considered funding improvements to the A1 trunk road.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Lords Spokesperson (Department for Transport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, the Government announced a range of transport proposals in the Chancellor's autumn Statement on 29 November 2011 for accelerated delivery in this spending review period. Those proposals were selected because they can be accelerated to start construction and make significant progress in the next three years, therefore making the earliest possible contribution to stimulating economic growth.

Photo of Lord Walton of Detchant Lord Walton of Detchant Crossbench

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that almost 20 years ago, in response to questions from myself and the late Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, the then Conservative Minister in this House-the noble Earl, Lord Caithness-made a commitment on behalf of the Government that the whole of the A1 between Newcastle and Edinburgh would ultimately be dual? Is the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, aware that two schemes were in an advanced state of preparation in Northumberland to begin in 2009 but, when the previous Government downgraded that road to one of regional importance, they were postponed? Now that the coalition has upgraded the road to national importance, is it not time that these delayed schemes should be embarked upon and expedited?

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Lords Spokesperson (Department for Transport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, the noble Lord is correct in his description of the history of this project. The interim Regional Transport Board for the North East recommended to the Government in 2006 that proposals for the A1 Adderstone to Belford and Al Morpeth to Felton schemes were not funding priorities for the period up to 2016. The department therefore did not have a scheme to consider for the autumn Statement. However, it is good news that the Government have decided that that section of road is of national importance.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, as we rightly attach so much importance to the United Kingdom and its preservation, is there not an unanswerable case for making the high road to Scotland, and indeed the high road to England, a fully dual-carriageway road of national importance?

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Lords Spokesperson (Department for Transport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I thought that someone would ask me a devolution question. There are very good road connections from the highly developed conurbation on Tyneside-Newcastle upon Tyne and Gateshead-but that is via the M6 corridor up through Carlisle. The journey time by car is shorter via Carlisle than it is via Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Photo of Baroness Maddock Baroness Maddock Liberal Democrat

My Lords, given that Northumberland is a more dangerous place to drive in than London according to figures released by the BBC on 19 January-32 deaths per 10 million hours of driving, compared with 23 in London-will the Government prioritise the value of road safety in transport appraisal calculations? Also, given that single-carriageway A roads like the A1 in Northumberland have the most serious accidents, does that not strengthen the case for dualling particularly dangerous parts of the A1 such as the Mousen bends, especially as that scheme is ready to go?

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Lords Spokesperson (Department for Transport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, first of all, the schemes on the A1 north of Morpeth are not ready to go, because they have been abandoned since 2006. However, my noble friend is absolutely right when she describes the dangers of a single carriageway, and I asked my officials precisely those questions. Interestingly, though, the accident rate for this section of the A1 was 154 per billion vehicle miles. This compares with 306 accidents per billion vehicle miles on all rural A-class roads within England. The rate for the A1, therefore, is approximately half that for rural A-class roads nationally.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Shadow Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow Spokesperson (Wales)

My Lords, the Minister will appreciate that very significant improvements were effected to the A1 south of Newcastle with the removal of some dangerous right-hand turns and roundabouts and effective control of traffic. All these improvements, however, are a considerable way south of Northumbria and Newcastle. Is there not a case for appreciating that the A1 now does need attention to the points further north, and that in fact he should look at that scheme further?

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Lords Spokesperson (Department for Transport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I re-emphasise that there is not a scheme at present that we can look at. The previous Administration also found, when they carefully analysed the situation, that there was not a business case for spending £10 per man, woman and child to dual all the way from Morpeth to Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Photo of Lord Geddes Lord Geddes Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, in relation to the Minister's reply to my noble friend Lord Cormack, could I ask the Minister when he last tried to drive from Newcastle to Carlisle and thence to Scotland? I think he will find that it took a very long time indeed.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Lords Spokesperson (Department for Transport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I did the best research I possibly could on behalf of your Lordships, but 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, whether I went on the M6 or on the single-carriageway A1.

Photo of Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Conservative

My Lords, given that we have run out of questions before time, may I congratulate my noble friend on the comprehensiveness of his replies?

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Lords Spokesperson (Department for Transport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

When my noble friend got to his feet, I thought, "Oh no, he is going to ask me one of those tricky questions to which I will have to agree to write". On this occasion I shall just thank the noble Lord for his question.