Rishi Sunak rejects criticism of A1 Northumberland scheme announcement

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak makes a stop off in Blyth Northumberland during his general election campaign where he met with local party members and candidates including Ian and Maureen Levy
-Credit: (Image: ChronicleLive)

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has rejected criticism of the Government’s decision to commit to dualling a stretch of the A1 in Northumberland just two days after he called a General Election.

On a visit to Northumberland where he met with party activists and candidates, Mr Sunak insisted that the Conservatives “believe deeply in the North East”, despite a new opinion poll putting them on track to lose every single seat they hold in the region.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper announced the Government’s decision to go ahead with the upgrade of 13 miles of the road between Morpeth and Ellingham on a Friday evening just two days after Mr Sunak had announced the July 4 election. That decision was based on a planning inspectorate report sent to the Government in 2021, but which Ministers had delayed responding to on four previous occasions.

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But the timing of the decision has led to criticism and some mockery from political opponents, with Labour dismissing the announcement as “back of tab packet transport planning”.

In an interview with The Journal in Blyth, Mr Sunak said: “I said last year that we would make a decision on A1 dualling by June 5. That’s what we said and we’ve delivered on the commitment that we said.

“I made the announcement on HS2 and said we’d take every penny that we would have spent on that and reinvest it in transport across the North that people use more often and will see the benefits of quicker. The dualling of the A1 Morpeth to Ellingham stretch is an example of that. We said we’d make a decision by June 5 and that’s exactly what’s happened.”

Asked directly if the scheme would definitely happen in the event of a Conservative victory, Mr Sunak said: “Yes, it’s just an example of my willingness to take bold action. We wouldn’t have the funding to do these things unless I had made a decision on HS2 to reinvest in local transport across the North.

“When I talk to people here, it’s the relief road, it’s re-opening the Ashington-Blyth line, it’s the A1. Those are all types of transport investment that people want to see prioritised.”

Politicians from all the main parties have backed dualling of the A1 for decades but the project has never come to fruition. The current proposed scheme was first announced in 2013 under David Cameron, and has won backing from a number of his successors as Prime Minister. Last year Mr Sunak highlighted dualling of the A1 as one of the transport schemes that the Government could fund after cancelling the Northern leg of the HS2 rail scheme.

A Labour Party spokesperson said: “This project was first promised by David Cameron back in 2014. Only the Tories would try and claim credit for projects that they promised literally a decade ago and have repeatedly failed to deliver.

“Labour will put an end to the chaotic back of a tab packet transport planning that has come to define the Tories with our plans to fix Britain’s railways and remove planning barriers to ensure upgrades to our transport networks are actually delivered.”

On the campaign stop in Blyth, Mr Sunak defended the Conservatives’ record in the North East and said that the Northumberland town was an example of where it had provided significant regeneration funding.