research by guest writers MINNIE COOPER and AUSTIN CAMBRIDGE
Traffic volumes on the beautiful A68/A696 route between Jedburgh and Ponteland increased in 2015 despite the best efforts of England's transport authorities to sideline the road and condemn it to country lane status.
Vehicle numbers had been falling spectacularly for a decade following the ludicrous decision to de-trunk the Northumberland section of the A68 and hand over its maintenance needs to the county council, and to create a so-called strategic national corridor via the A1 from Newcastle to Edinburgh.
There was an angry reaction from the Jedburgh business community and promises of action by local politicians following Not Just Sheep & Rugby's expose of the statistics in March 2016. It showed car numbers had slumped by a massive 35% between 2004 and 2015 while total traffic was down by 28.7% in the same period. The deliberate downgrading of the A68 was having a devastating impact on the local economy.
The numbers of cars crossing one of the census points just south of Jedburgh on an average day declined from 4162 to 2701, and the count for all forms of transport dropped from 5103 to 3635.. At the same time the A1 counter at Berwick-on-Tweed experienced a 65% increase in car numbers from 5258 to 8775 with total traffic up from 7505 to 11,805.
Department of Transport data for 2015 shows there was a modest increase in A68/A696 traffic in 2015 at all census points although there was an even bigger rise on A1.
The Jedburgh counter, quoted above, registered an annual average daily flow (AADF) of 3722 vehicles (+87 on the 2014 figure of 3635) and car numbers increased by an average of 42 to 2743 (2701). HGV numbers rose by 10 per day from 244 to 254.
We also looked at figures for the counter north of Jedburgh covering the stretch of the A68 from the town to the Bonjedward junction with the A698. Statistics here were obviously boosted by local traffic travelling to Kelso, Galashiels and other Borders towns for work, shopping trips, or leisure pursuits.
Here the all vehicle count went up from 7978 to 8328 (+50), car numbers increased by 92 on an AADF basis.
In a bid to secure a truly accurate picture of trends we obtained figures for two other census points at Carter Bar on the England-Scotland border and for the A696 south of Otterburn. The Carter Bar figures for all traffic increased from 2911 in 2014 to 2971 in 2015, but were still well below the 3263 AADF statistics logged in 2005. Car numbers rose from 2260 to 2295.
On the A696 all vehicle numbers showed a healthy increase from 3503 to 3590, not far short of the 2005 number (4075). Car traffic was up from 2560 to 2600. And significantly, HGVs using the route were up from 247 to 259 per day despite advice from the London transport authorities that the A696/A68 is not really suitable for lorries and other large vehicles.
Turning to the A1 we examined the data for a different counter point in the Berwick vicinity this time. Here vehicle traffic was up by an average of 112 per day from 8042 in 2014 to 8513 in 2015. HGV numbers rose by 50 from 1186 to 1236.
Further north at the Cockburnspath census point close to the Borders regional boundary with East Lothian the all-traffic numbers shot up by 309 per day from 7417 to 7726 with HGVs up by 49 from 1,140 to 1,189.
Finally, the A68 north of Lauder saw vehicle numbers rise from 6,636 to 6,923 (2005 figure was 8,922). HGV numbers were up from 526 to 555 (2005 - 840).
So has the A68 from Jedburgh southwards turned the corner, so to speak? The latest statistics were being clocked up before the political outcry in 2016, and there has been little sign of action since. A suggestion for a Friends of the A68 with cross-border collaboration appears to have been kicked into the long grass while an improvement plan for the Scottish section of the route is supposed to be published by the end of this year.
Perhaps MPs, MSPs and councillors in the Scottish Borders would show more urgency by making themselves aware of the negative ramifications likely to flow from another development which could have a devastating impact on the A68's future use.
A section of Northumberland County Council's current Infrastructure Plan entitled 'Improving Northumberland's roads network' does not appear to contain any mention of major investment for the A696/A68. At the same time Highways England has allocated a £290 million package to upgrade the A1 in Northumberland still further.
It will facilitate additional stretches of dual carriageway, attracting an estimated additional £376 million to the local economy.
According to the literature accompanying the financial support for the Great North Road: "The long-term vision is to upgrade the full A1 route through Northumberland to Expressway Standard". This would transform the route into a mini-motorway modelled on European-style expressways.
Time, perhaps, for the Jedburgh area's representatives to get their skates on or at least move up through the gears!