PRESSURE is mounting for the removal of Morpeth traffic lights, with another public meeting set to take place today.
A total of 2,228 people have now signed a petition calling for the signals at Telford Bridge to be removed and a mini-roundabout reinstated.
The lights were erected in April to increase capacity at the junction in advance of the opening of a new supermarket off Dark Lane.
But locals have complained about safety, congestion, confusion and pollution at the signals, as well as problems with nearby pedestrian crossings.
The petition, which was organised by Morpeth Conservatives, Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade and local residents, saw 962 people sign up on Fair Day last month, while another 218 added their names through Northumberland County Council’s online system, and 1,048 signatures were collected by local shops and businesses.
It was presented to the county council’s North Area Committee on Monday.
Coun David Towns, who set up the online form, said: “The petition continues to collect names and looks set to become the largest petition ever presented to the unitary authority.
“The frustration of a large segment of the population of Morpeth is something that the council cannot ignore.
“We’ve been given details of accidents, near-misses, stuck lorries, longer waiting times and problems for the emergency services, including the police and ambulance services whose stations are very close to the junction.
“Nobody is claiming that the roundabout was perfect, but these lights are much worse and the fact they were installed before a problem with traffic using the new supermarket even arose is what sticks in many people’s throats.”
A public meeting in May saw about 200 people turn up to voice their concerns about the lights.
And a follow-up meeting will take place at Morpeth Town Hall this evening when county council officers will present more data about the new system.
But Conservative councillor Glen Sanderson has criticised the appointment of Liberal Democrat Executive Member Andrew Tebbutt as chairman for the session, as well as the make-up of the panel.
“The whole point about the meeting is that it has got to be open, fair and impartial, and offers members of the public the opportunity to speak without the council coming in with preconceived ideas,” he said.
“They have asked David Towns to sit on the panel, but he is the only local Conservative member to be asked. We are concerned that this meeting is set up as a fait accompli for the Lib Dems.
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“We assumed the chairman would be somebody entirely neutral, or perhaps the same chairman as last time, David Towns, who did very well.”
Coun Tebbutt was outraged at the comments and says he has a reputation among members of all parties for being entirely fair.
“We asked several people to chair the meeting, but they were not able to do it so I was asked by the Director of Local Services Caroline Bruce if I would chair it so I agreed reluctantly to do it,” he said.
“As it happens, I had nothing to do with the decision making about the lights, other than being a local Morpeth member.
“The one thing I know, and Coun Sanderson has said in the past, is I have the respect of most people across the political divide for being fair and straight forward and I don’t propose to be anything different at the meeting.
“I am very aware that some people are unhappy with the lights, but we will have all the information at the meeting that will show what is going on with the lights.”
Arguments have raged between politicians about who gave approval for the signals, with the Conservatives saying they had no prior knowledge of the lights.
However, Joan Tebbutt has pointed to the report to the North Area Planning Committee when the Dark Lane supermarket was approved in July 2011 that specifically mentions the proposed signalisation of the Bridge Street mini-roundabout at the northern end of Telford Bridge, and the fact that highways officers supported the measure.
The committee was attended by one Labour member, one Independent, three Liberal Democrats and three Conservatives.
Mrs Tebbutt said: “If you look at the list of councillors who were there, the Liberal Democrats aren’t even the majority of the committee. It is there for anybody to see so Conservatives David Bawn and David Towns, who are both solicitors, really should check their facts before saying anything.
“The Liberal Democrats are not playing a political game here, this is the truth. The planning committee made the decision, it is there in black and white.”
Conservative Group Leader Peter Jackson said: “This is a complete red herring, it is a bit of a smoke screen.
“Highways issues and traffic management are down to the highways department at the county council and the Executive member in charge of highways. If there are any changes to be made to the highways, whether bringing the roundabout back or putting traffic lights in, those traffic management measures come through that process. They don’t come through the planning process.
“The planning committee considered this as part of a massive planning application for a superstore in Morpeth and this was a tiny part of that application and was in no way considered in detail by the planning committee. It was a highways and traffic management issue.”
The public meeting about the traffic lights will take place at 6.30pm today.