INVESTMENT in North East transport links will send a message that the region is a strong place to do business, Transport Minister Chris Grayling has said.

The Secretary of State for Transport officially opened the A1 Leeming to Barton stretch of motorway today and said it was a project he was most pleased to open because it was so important to the country.

He said following the announcement of East Coast Main Line rail services returning into public hands, transport links into the North East will be better than ever and make for a strong economy due to more business being driven into the region.

He said: “This is one project I’m most pleased to be able to open. It is so long overdue, and I don’t understand how we had a situation where there wasn’t full motorway grade road between London and Newcastle. It is a good investment, good for business and for jobs in the region.

“Making this investment sends a message about the North East. If you come here, either investing or moving here, there are the connections to London. It is about making sure we have a balanced economy throughout the country, because if you have areas less well served by transport it puts off investors.

“This provides a real signpost to the North East, Teesside and Newcastle and beyond, that there is no problem connecting with the rest of the country.”

He said the new Azuma trains being built by Hitachi at Newton Aycliffe would bring the most modern and effective service passengers had experienced.

He said: “I passionately believe the reintegration of track and train will make them work better.

“The brand new trains will be fantastic, for the first time in a long time there will be modern and effective trains.

“I want Hitachi to go from strength to strength, and I am pushing for them to carry out work internationally for other operators because it is cheaper and better to build in UK.”

A total of 13 miles of the route between Leeming and Barton has been upgraded to motorway standard, with an extra lane added in each direction. The upgrade has made access to the motorway safer via a new junction at Catterick and an improved junction at Scotch Corner, which will be completed by the end of May.

The improvements also include 11 miles of new local access roads, and ten bridges, improving safety for local traffic and the surrounding communities.