Thursday, 12 February 2009

The Road to Hell

Chris Rea’s song was reportedly based on the M25, but the title could fit the A1 north of Newcastle. Not because it goes to Scotland (or indeed to Newcastle; both are worth a trip). But because it is hellish to drive on: mostly single carriageway, dangerous bends, traffic moving at very different speeds. Lots of delay, bad temper and death. I get a kick out of my hamlet (adult population: 3) being signposted directly from the A1. But I’d give that up for a decent road. (The picture isn’t actually the A1 but its close).
Dualling the A1 would be one of the most significant things which could help this area, by making it accessible and confirming it as main route to Scotland. The local MP, Sir Alan Beith has spent over 30 years in the job; he has certainly helped individuals but I can’t see any sign of him doing anything significant for the constituency. My own view is that he cannot because as a Liberal Democrat he has no influence. During his period Labour and Conservatives have been in power for roughly half the time each. They have not had to take this area seriously. To paraphrase the Liberal Democrat slogan in 2008: A Liberal Democrat vote is a wasted vote. It’s critical at the next election to get someone who can achieve something.
This point is made even more relevant by the Liberal Democrats’ latest economic policy announcement. It makes it clear that they would not spend money on upgrading the UK’s road network. So the Liberal Democrat support for the recently re-initiated campaign to dual the A1 is actually misleading: they do not want such projects to be funded. I hope Berwick upon Tweed electors both realise and remember that at the next election.


Sarah said...

No to duelling.
No, no,no!
Instead, get the freight on the railway, Dover to Inverness; travelling between, say, 1am and 4 am while an inexpensive, well-staffed passenger service runs long and short journeys during the day.
The tunnel has potential to link the North East by rail to Europe and a forward-thinking plan could link small villages close to the railway. Plus, let's drop the price of rail and rural bus travel and fill the seats. Full buses could fund conductors who could ensure passengers were comfortable and well-behaved (I'm pretty sure the private companies don't want kids unsupervised on buses).
Alternatively, why not make use of new technology in hydrogen-powered shipping and float cargo around the coast? Using the natural tide and (is it?) clockwise shift of water around the coast, an efficient network of carriers could take massive shipments of goods around the U.K. making use of redundant docks and smaller harbours, where fishing vessels could be employed to bring supplies to land and be distributed by local haulage firms. This could also have implications for the long-haul driver; being employed locally (he's around for his kids and time to contribute to and enjoy a community)the large containers are off the A1 so the speed and volume of traffic are reduced.
Duel the A1 and bring more cars, more lorries and more accidents. Have you checked the traffic on the Great Western Bypass this morning? shall we make that bigger? Bigger roads mean more traffic. Have a look at the accident reports for any motorway in the country. More traffic and drivers travelling faster.
Motorways cleave communities in two. already the A1 splits our county, next time you travel through newcastle ask yourself 'does the person in the house on the left hand side of the road talk, or even wave to the person on the right?' 'do the kids play in the street?'.
Also, we could have a conversation about commuting, and the simple fact that, in order for a relatively small population of long-distance travellers to maintain a lifestyle, a great deal of other people have to compromise theirs- lose houses, farmland, etc. You can drive 100 miles every morning of your life, if you like; (I can meet a number of cars racing to and from the A1, rushing round the tiny lanes, when I'm out on my bike,) but don't ask other people to pay for you to do them a little faster.
Is it really sustainable to support a portion of the population who are happy, can afford to travel over 100 miles a day for work, by car? Should we not encourage use of rail- move away from fossil fuels and the idea that it is okay to use these dwindling resources if you have the money to pay for them?
Roads are short term.
Roads are easy.
Not impressed.

Troy said...

John, I fully agree with your support for dualling the A1. Unlike the single-carriageway A1 you do not see large notices on the motorways with "137 deaths since 2006 - slow down" because motorways are the safest roads around.
The railways too need some extensive upgrading although Dover to Inverness in three hours (average 215mph) would be an impressive upgrade.
I'm not however a big supporter of duelling. My philosophy has always been "let's put those pistols away and talk things through".

John Woodman said...

Sarah: Er...that'll be a "no" then.

I agree with you about:
Moving more bulk goods by rail and sea;
The impact of dualling "our" bit of the A1 on the western bypass, which would need upgrading. The knock-on effects must be considered

I disagree with you about:
Safety; I think all the stats show that dualled roads are the safest;
Splitting communities; I don't think the dualled A1 splits communities any more than the single carriageway one; if anything there are more purpose built linkages.

But I think we mostly disagree about the wealth generating aspect. Roads bring wealth because they increase interaction between areas (and in the short term because of their construction). They bring costs because of the aspects you mention: the fact the costs are hard to measure don't make them any less real. But I am sure they are outweighed by the benefits.

occasional northerner said...

As a commuter who doesn't commute up it in the car (at least not often) but commutes daily across the roundabout at Berwick to the station I am almost terrified to say anything! However here goes:-

It is insane that the main east coast road from Edinburgh to London is not duelled. The A/M74/M6 by comparison is a serious road and properly links the west central belt of Scotland/Glasgow to the south. Look at where the transport hubs in Scotland are - all link easily to that route. However...

The use of the current A1 and its effect on the county has much to do with people's minds.

Yes it is dangerous and that is primarily caused by frustration, but that is because people are impatient and drive badly on it. For the sake of the 10 minutes it might make to a journey between Berwick and Newcaslte just sit there, listen to the radio and try not to drive like a lunatic. It is the road that's here - frustrating as it is to drive into a city from its edge, one doesn't try to overtake in a suburban street; one just accepts it has to be driven sensibly through to get from A to B - why treat the A1 any differently.

Yes it is a geographical barrier, but if it is a social one that is something that one can overcome by crossing it and speaking to someone (I am now wondering just how hyporitical I might be given that the majority of my friends seem to live on the west side of it, but I was on the east side of it twice yesterday and I'm sure I spoke to someone).

I don't want it improved so I can commute up it - to commute other than by train is a huge waste of time. This is a fantastic place to live and anyone who wants to live here should feel that they can and should even if they can afford to drive 100 miles every day! I would quite like to work here, but at least for the meantime that is more complicated than living here and I have a responsiblity in terms of providing a roof, food etc for my little family and so I drag myself from my bed an hour or so earlier than I'd like to and come home an hour or so later than I'd prefer to earn a living. I feel deeply unapologetic about it. I am absolutely confident that in the fullness of time I'll make a contribution of some sort to the community in which I now live. There must be at least ten houses for sale in this village just now - they would be much better filled with anyone who wants live in them, regardless of where they work, than empty or lived in by people who no longer want to live here. However the only sensibly way to communute from here to is by train with your laptop plugged in or a good book.

While I'd like to see better public transport I don't think anything is going to get us out of our cars, and given that we want to be in them, nor do I think it should. If people want the freedom to go where they like when they like it is the job of government to ensure that they can - not that they can't. We are surely now only a short step away from greener vehicles no longer reliant on fossil fuels - we should be pushing across that step.

I think my conclusion is no to duelling (spend the cash on fixing the land slip on the road to the Chain Bridge and sorting out the profusion of pot holes caused by the last two month's weather); speak to your neighbours; yes to the freedom to drive and commute.

Anyway off to tidy up my work remotely from here and then drive down the A1 to Whitby for my half term holidays.