HL Deb 17 May 1994 vol 555 cc125-7

Lord Palmer asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, despite their assurances in 1992 and 1993 that they were committed to upgrading the A.I trunk road between Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Edinburgh to dual carriageway throughout its length, that pledge has now been abandoned; and, if so, why in view of their recent statement that priority will be given to schemes involving major trunk roads.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish)

My Lords, the pledge has not been abandoned. Progress, however, depends on the overall availability of resources and the national priorities.

Lord Palmer

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging reply. Originally, this Question was in the name of my noble friend Lord Walton. For personal reasons, he very much regrets being unable to be here this afternoon. Does the noble Lord agree that the A.1 is fast becoming one of the most dangerous stretches of road in Britain with 291 casualties in the past two years over a small 95 kilometre stretch?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, in comparison with some roads, the accident rate on this road is indeed high, but I can tell the noble Lord that it is reducing. Steps are being taken to improve it. New dualling is being put in, and three-lane overtaking lanes have been introduced on steep hills. Road marking and speed traps are also being used to cut the speed of motorists, which is the root cause of many of the accidents.

Lord Stodart of Leaston

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I have to cross the A.1 very frequently? Will he be good enough to confirm that he appreciates the danger and difficulty that I have in so doing and my ardent support for him? Now that the priority of improving the road from the North East to the central belt has been fulfilled—very rightly, I think— what priority is attached to the Great North Road?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will join me in saying that we wish to keep my noble friend Lord Stodart alive, healthy, and safely crossing the A.1. I do not think that this part of the A.1 has been accorded the priority that has been accorded to the road south from Aberdeen or, indeed, other roads throughout the country. However, it is still a major priority in the road building programme.

A number of dualling schemes are at various stages of preparation and nearing a start over the course of the road between Edinburgh and Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, can my noble friend explain why the Scottish Office failed to make the recently opened Cockburnspath by-pass a dual carriageway, with the result that it is now unsafe during high winds and has been pronounced so?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, the principal reason why the portion of the road was not made a dual carriageway was that the volume of traffic on that length of road did not justify a dual carriageway. However, because of the accident record on the old road and the lack of an overtaking opportunities, it was felt that a by-pass with an overtaking lane for the uphill traffic should be created. As far as the wind problem is concerned, my noble friend will know that we are talking about a fairly high section of road in a fairly exposed situation. Unfortunately, shortly after it was opened in December 1992, a number of high-sided vehicles were blown over. I am assured that that is not a frequent occurrence and that it happens only on the very rare occasions when the wind speed and direction are such that high-sided vehicles are in danger. My noble friend may have noticed that there are signs there, as there are in many other parts of the country, warning drivers when the wind speed and direction are such that they should be careful.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, I am sure that the House would love a definition of what the Minister means by "frequent". I have not been over that road for quite a time myself, but I have often read about it in the Scottish papers. Indeed, it is so bad that death toll notices were going to be erected on the road showing the death toll over the previous 18 months or two years. I do not know whether that has happened; I am asking the Minister for information. That idea was so bizarre that one wonders, first, how many notices have been put up and, secondly, what effect they have had. The Minister will also be aware that just before the last general election a commitment was given about dualling the road—sheer coincidence, I am sure—but can the Minister give us any more information about the promise that was made?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I am happy to tell the noble Lord that due to various methods of reducing the speed of traffic, the accident rate has been reduced. However, it is undoubtedly still a road with a poorish accident record. As other roads are modernised and upgraded, roads such as this come towards the top of the list of poorish roads remaining to be improved. The statement by my right honourable friend Mr. Malcolm Rifkind and my honourable friend Lord James Douglas-Hamilton was that it would be desirable if the A.1 could be fully dualled between Newcastle and Edinburgh. As the noble Lord will know, the priority in the Scottish Office programme is to make the A.74 south of Glasgow up to motorway standard. I understand that that is what the Scottish Office is concentrating its roads resources on.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, if the intention is to improve the road from Newcastle to Edinburgh, as the Minister said, would it not be very much better to improve the road via Coldstream, which everybody uses, rather than the A.1, which few people use because it is far too long a distance?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, my noble friend rightly points out that there is another road across the Border at Coldstream, but the road via Coldstream is inland, going over some pretty high country and is subject to problems in winter, whereas the A.1 is the coast road and is a lot less subject to weather.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned the A.92 south of Aberdeen. Perhaps I may ask the Minister a question about the A.92 north of Aberdeen. The section between Blairton and the Ellon bypass was originally supposed to be dualled in 1994. Will he tell us when that will happen?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, this is becoming a bit of a tour of the roads of Scotland. I fully appreciate my noble friend's interest in this matter. I am afraid that I cannot answer the question about the Ellon bypass. She will have to put down a Question about that if she wishes to know. But I can assure her, as she well knows, that the road south of Aberdeen is now a splendid road. If she wishes, she can drive from Aberdeen to Paris on a dual carriageway road or better.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, does my noble friend recognise that as we now have cameras on the A.1 road, which is under discussion, the accident rate has dropped dramatically in recent months?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, yes. I can confirm that the appearance of cameras, in addition to the improved road markings, has led to a decrease in the number of road accidents in that area, as it does on all roads upon which cameras appear.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, would not the Minister be better advised to advise his noble friend Lady Saltoun to travel by rail rather than to take her car all the way?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, of course, my friend can do that once she gets to Aberdeen or she can travel by air. But I believe that she will still have to get to Aberdeen by road.

Back to