THE Chancellor’s decision to press ahead with improvements to the A1 will save hundreds of lives, create thousands of jobs and benefit the economy by more than £1.5bn, officials said tonight.

The upgrade of a 12-mile stretch of the A1 in North Yorkshire to three-lane motorway delighted business and community leaders in the region.

Proposed £64m improvements to the A1 at Lobley Hill, at Gateshead, were also welcomed.

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The chancellor was responsible for cancelling the £314m North Yorkshire scheme in 2010 during a cost-cutting exercise.

However, officials said today (Wednesday, December 5) that the upgrade to the dual-carriageway between Leeming Bar and Barton could begin as soon as next year.

The work will create a continuous stretch of motorway between London and Newcastle.

It is estimated the improvements will save around 100 lives and prevent 650 serious casualties over 60 years.

Journey times will be reduced by 20 per cent and the region’s economy will potentially see a £1.5bn benefit over its lifetime.

Work is due to start in 2013/14 and the completed road will open to traffic in 2016/17.

Up to 750 jobs will be created in the construction industry over the three years.

In Gateshead, new roads will be built in parallel to the existing A1 between Lobley Hill and A184.

The scheme will provide an alternative route for local traffic, improving congestion and accident rates on one of the most congested stretches of road in the UK.

Officials say the work will help regeneration and development, including the creation of up to 22,000 new jobs with the congestion considered as a major constraint to expansion of regional employment and housing.

Work is planned to start in 2014/15 with the scheme due to open in 2016.

The North East Chamber of Commerce hailed the schemes as a major boost for regional firms.

Ross Smith, North East Chamber of Commerce director of policy, said: “This is the first budget announcement from the Coalition Government that business in the North-East can really get behind.

“The £378m upgrade of the A1 to motorway from London to Newcastle is a huge success for those of us who have lobbied long and hard for infrastructure investment and will help our firms deliver more for UK Plc, as well as alleviate congestion at pinch points on the Western Bypass.”

The A1 has twice closed this winter because of flooding on the stretch set to be upgraded.

North Yorkshire County Council leader John Weighell said the upgrade was key to the economic prosperity of the county.

He added: “The closure of the road during the floods of this year has underlined the importance of major improvements.

“It is extremely gratifying that the Government has now responded with this announcement.”

But Jenny Chapman, the Darlington MP, attacked the "ultimate U-turn",
saying: "This scheme was cancelled in 2010 by George Osborne himself. Over two years later, he's finally realised the importance of project."

Mick Henry, leader of Gateshead Council, said the Western Bypass was the third most congested stretch of major road in Britain with only the M25 Thames crossings at Dartford worse.

He added: “It is currently operating at three times its theoretical capacity, day in, day out, and has been for some time. Action is long overdue.”

The decision to cancel the upgrade in North Yorkshire was criticised in November last year by North Yorkshire Coroner Michael Oakley at the inquest of elderly couple, William and Dorothy Pritchard, who died after they tried to cross the A1 near Catterick Garrison through a gap in the central reservation.

The cancelled upgrade plans included junctions at Catterick Central, Scotch Corner and Barton.

Access roads for local and non-motorway traffic were proposed between Low Street and Catterick, Catterick North and Scotch Corner, Leeming and Catterick, and Scotch Corner and Barton.

Officials said tonight that the new scheme would still need to go through the legislative process, although the previous plans would be used as a starting point.