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Drivers and businesses back call for improvements on ‘unsafe’ and costly A1

Drivers are avoiding one of the East Midlands’ major roads and businesses are spending hundreds of pounds on vehicle maintenance due to its poor condition, according to a new survey of the A1 by Transport for the East Midlands (TfEM).

Congestion, poor road conditions and signage, junction safety and accidents are the major concerns of the 1,100 people and businesses surveyed around Stamford, Grantham, Newark, Retford and Worksop.

More than 60% of 1,000 drivers surveyed felt unsafe travelling on the A1, with nearly half reporting either being in an accident on the road themselves, or knowing someone who had. More than 70% say they have avoided travelling on it.

Parliament has been told that there have been 27 deaths on the A1 in the East Midlands between 2015 and 2020, and more than 200 incidents where it had to be closed – sometimes for hours on end.

Of 100 businesses surveyed by TfEM, all have had to pay for maintenance or repairs due to the road’s condition, with more than 60% saying they have paid between £300-£1,000. Nearly all reported changing the way they operate to accommodate the road’s condition, such as planning different routes, hiring drivers experienced in using the A1, and carrying our risk assessments.

The A1 is the UK’s longest road and a nationally significant freight artery linking Scotland, the North, and the Midlands with London and the South East.

It also plays a key role in the East Midlands economy, particularly for the agri-food, logistics, manufacturing and tourism industries. Up to 100,000 homes and employment growth are also planned along the A1 corridor in the region.

Several sections of the road have already been upgraded to A1M motorway standard through Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Yorkshire and parts of the North East. However the 72-mile stretch that serves 1.9 million people between Stamford in Lincolnshire and Worksop/Retford in Nottinghamshire remains an unlit dual carriageway with no CCTV monitoring.

Some of the A1’s entry and exit lanes in the East Midlands are short and – unlike motorways – there are also crossing points where vehicles can drive directly across carriageways.

The surveys’ findings follow research published by Midlands Connect earlier this month, which found that delays on this part of the A1 are costing the regional economy around £1.75m every year – equating to commuters losing around £1,400 every day and HGV drivers losing just under £514,000 a year.

Sir Peter Soulsby, Chair of TfEM and elected Mayor of Leicester, said: “This survey adds the voices of local people and businesses to the mounting evidence that the A1 is not fit for purpose in the East Midlands.

“In the past few years, there have been 27 fatal accidents on this stretch of the A1 – significantly higher than average for an A-road dual carriageway – and more than 200 road closures, some of which have lasted up to 10 hours. This is an appalling human cost and unacceptable.

“While the forthcoming National Highways safety work to improve the road’s lane markings and signage is very welcome, what we really need is a more strategic approach to enhancing the route to improve reliability and resilience and bring the A1 in the East Midlands up to a standard that reflects its national and regional economic role.”

Improving the safety and reliability of the A1 is one of Transport for the East Midlands’ and Midlands Connect’s shared priorities for the region’s cities and counties. Read more about them here.

Political leaders across the East Midlands are supporting TfEM’s call for action.

Alicia Kearns, the MP for Rutland and Melton, who also chairs the A1 Group of MPs, said:  “As I have made clear in parliament, the A1 is failing us as a critical economic artery. It has also taken a heart-breaking toll on people’s lives and the concerns these surveys highlight about the road’s safety should set alarm bells ringing.

“This is an ‘A’ road with sub-standard junctions and right turn movements, accident blackspots and a lack of resilience or alternative routes during closures. Critically, there is also a lack of safety technology, including CCTV and even SoS telephones, so those in danger are unable to get the help that they need.

“As a matter of urgency, we need to see a clear plan to address these concerns. Too many people have lost their lives on the A1, and the toll it is taking on businesses and communities is unacceptable. Its safety infrastructure must be raised to a higher standard.”

The campaign to improve the A1 in the East Midlands is also being supported by business and transport organisations nationally and regionally, including the Road Haulage Association, which represents thousands of businesses in the road transport industry.

James Barwise, the RHA’s Policy Advisor, said: “It’s unacceptable that there have been 27 deaths on the A1 in the East Midlands between 2015 and 2020, and more than 200 incidents where it had to be closed. Something has gone badly wrong when drivers are saying they avoid one of our most important roads because they’re worried for their own safety.

“Improving our roads is absolutely vital in connecting our cities and improving our economic productivity, but never more so when it’s needed to save lives.”

Chris Hobson, Director of Policy and Insight for the East Midlands Chamber, which represents thousands of firms across the region, said: “Having a robust, dependable transport network is important for any business, but it’s critical to the East Midlands –  a significant part of the region’s economy depends on the ability to move goods nationally and even internationally, and the below-par nature of the A1 is clearly impacting on the ability of our businesses to get the job done.

“We’ve said many times that government needs to raise the levels of infrastructure investment in the East Midlands, and these surveys clearly show that making the A1 safer and more reliable must be a priority.”

The importance of a resilient transport network in the East Midlands has also been highlighted in a new East Midlands All Party Parliamentary Group Report. It calls for greater certainty on the delivery of major infrastructure projects in the region following an inquiry into the social and economic opportunities of investment, in the wake of the cancellation of HS2 to the East Midlands and the Government’s publication of ‘Network North’.

Image caption: An accident on the A1 in the East Midland earlier this year (Photo must be credited to R.S. Mortiss)