HL Deb 27 February 1992 vol 536 cc375-8

3.1 p.m.

Lord Walton of Detchant asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, in the light of the increasing number of serious accidents on the A.1 trunk road between Newcastle and Edinburgh, they will authorise its conversion into dual carriageway throughout its length.

The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

My Lords, there has been a joint Department of Transport-Scottish Office working party looking at all aspects of this stretch of' the A.1. The Government hope to announce their conclusions in the near future.

Lord Walton of Detchant

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, in which I sense a hint of encouragement. Is he aware that, whereas the incidence of accidents throughout the country has decreased by 1 per cent. over the past four years, on the winding single carriageway stretch of the road between Morpeth and Edinburgh the incidence of accidents went up by 27 per cent. in that same period? Is he further aware of the A.1 Safe Link Campaign, sponsored by Lothian Regional Council, the Borders Regional Council and Northumberland County Council, and supported by many local newspapers, which has resulted in 35,000 signatures in its support?

Finally, does he appreciate that over the past 10 years there have been 139 deaths on that road, 21 in the past 15 months and four in the past three weeks?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am aware of the campaign to which the noble Lord refers. As I said, we have been reviewing the situation on that particular stretch of road. There are in fact slightly fewer accidents on that road set against the average for similar roads in Great Britain, although I concede that on some sections the national average rate is exceeded. However, the rate of severe accidents occurring on the road is slightly higher than average. That is the main problem. Work on two schemes at Brownieside, north of' Alnwick, and Marshall Meadows, north of Berwick, where accidents have been above the average, is due to start in the spring. In Scotland the high quality bypass at Cockburnspath is presently under construction. The accident rate over those sections is among the worst on the route. So those schemes should be welcomed.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is extreme urgency about this matter? In support of the noble Lord, Lord Walton, is he further aware there is overwhelming support for the project in the North East? Moreover, does he appreciate that the rest of the country is now becoming conscious of the fact that North East England is the most beautiful part of these islands? The increase in tourism is tremendous, not only of day travellers but of' people from abroad. I speak as a former member of the Northumbria Tourist Board. Will the Government push this matter forward and come to a firm conclusion, particularly as the A.1 is to be made into a motorway?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I take note of the noble Lord's observations and his assertion that the North East is a beautiful part of the country. I do not disagree, although others may promote their own areas of the country. As I said in my original Answer, the Government hope to announce their conclusions in the near future. In addition to the schemes that I announced in my further reply to the noble Lord, Lord Walton, a number of minor schemes have now been implemented to help with particular accident blackspots at 21 locations.

Lord Gray of Contin

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that a very large number of the accidents on that stretch of road are caused by excessive speed? Until such time as the improvements are effected, will it be possible to have a lower speed limit at certain of the more dangerous parts?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the speed limit on single carriageway roads is 60 miles an hour, and 75 per cent. of that stretch of road is single carriageway. I shall certainly take note of my noble friend's comments and see whether something along those lines can be done.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead

My Lords, I leave aside for the moment the beauties of the North East, which are considerable, and even the importance of Newcastle. Does the Minister agree that it is extraordinary that there should not be a continuous dual carriageway road between London and Edinburgh? Will the Government, who have not been notably successful in preserving the links between the two countries over the past few years, at least repair that deficiency?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I point out to the noble Lord that if one were travelling from London to Edinburgh one would be unlikely to use the A.1 road between Newcastle and Edinburgh. One is much more likely to follow the route up the west side of the country, which is dual carriageway the whole way, most of it to motorway standard.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, I am glad that the Minister was able to tell us that the joint working party would report fairly soon. We must remember that this is a road with joint jurisdiction. We want the road to be balanced on both sides of the Border. Is he convinced that the schemes of widening which are already going forward will be sufficient? Will they ultimately be able to link up with other improvements, so that we have, if not a motorway, at least a very good dual carriageway all the way from Newcastle to Edinburgh?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, as I said in my original Answer, we are looking at the whole of that stretch of road. A quarter of the road is already dual carriageway. I have alluded to three schemes which will improve the road. There is total co-operation on the road between the Scottish Office and the Department of Transport, despite the fact that part of it is in Scottish Office territory and part in Department of Transport territory. I believe that that is a very good case for the union to continue.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the fact that the road is neither dual carriageway nor motorway is a source of great dissatisfaction in Scotland and that of course the Government are blamed for it?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am aware that there is considerable concern about this road. The noble Lord, Lord Walton, referred to the petition of 35,000 names, which, I believe, is to be presented in another place in due course. As I said in my original Answer, the Government are looking at the matter.

Lord Palmer

My Lords, will the Minister explain why the new Cockburnspath bypass will be single carriageway? Surely it would have been cheaper to make it dual in the first place.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I believe that it is to be single carriageway but with a climbing lane for slower moving vehicles on the upward part. I understand that it will be designed in such a way that it will be possible to make it dual carriageway without additional expense in the future.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, with reference to my noble friend's Question—although it is indeed surprising, as he pointed out, that Edinburgh is west of Bristol—even if one went up the west side, so far as I know (I seldom go to those deep southern parts of Scotland) one would still find no dual carriageway. One cannot get to Edinburgh from London on a dual carriageway unless one goes into Glasgow itself.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, perhaps I was wrong. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, I strayed slightly off the Question on the Order Paper which refers to the A.1 between Newcastle and Edinburgh. I shall not stray further off that track.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, may wish to speak afterwards. With reference to the answer given to the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, when will the Government reconsider the building of bypasses which are not dual carriageways? The number of accidents that have occurred on new bypasses such as that around Ilminster have been repeated in all parts of the country. Surely it is time that the Department of Transport did something about the matter.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, each bypass must be treated on its own merit according to the expected traffic flow. Obviously, it is better to have a single carriageway bypass at lower cost than no bypass at all.