NEW Morpeth traffic lights are continuing to cause public outcry, with calls for a mini-roundabout to be reinstalled.
Residents across the town have slammed the new lights at Telford Bridge, which they say are causing long tailbacks even at quiet times of the day.
And now Morpeth Town Council has demanded an urgent re-think of the system.
However, Northumberland County Council’s highways officers insist that the scheme will work once it is given time to settle in.
Regular Herald letter writers Robert Pollard and Norman Bateman have both suggested that an additional bridge could be built to resolve the traffic issues, reader Janet Holland said the new lights were an ‘inconceivable idea’ and has turned away from Morpeth as a result of the queues, David Bawn said the system is not fit for purpose, Rob Brind described it as a ‘disaster for Morpeth’, and Al McDonald, Glenn Richardson and Helen Fish all said the mini-roundabout should return.
Safety concerns have also been raised by resident David Richards.
“There is hardly any room for buses and lorries to turn at the junction and it’s just a matter of time before a driver hits one of the traffic light poles,” he said.
Morpeth town councillor Derek Thompson said: “It is quite clear that the junction isn’t working properly.
“We have two local crossings that aren’t co-ordinated with the other lights and the other day the traffic was backed up to Whorral Bank. There was a wagon that couldn’t get round the junction and had to back up Bridge Street to get round. This needs looking at again. It needs re-designing.
“To me, the whole thing hasn’t been thought out. Everybody in Morpeth is complaining about it, and quite rightly too. The kids are going to be 10 minutes late for school every morning because you just can’t get through Morpeth. Something needs to be done as a matter of urgency.It is just absolutely awful and it needs re-thinking from start to finish.”
Fellow member Les Cassie said: “It clearly isn’t working at the moment. It is unacceptable that, even on quiet days, the traffic is back to the Sun Inn.
“I don’t think the issue is one of road markings, the issue is there simply isn’t the capacity to move people through the junction with the lights set up as they are.
“The highways experts need to tell us what is going on and what they are going to do about it.”
And Coun Richard Thompson said: “I wonder how quickly, if it is decided that it doesn’t work by people at the county, that it can be sorted out? I wonder how quickly they can bulldoze it and put a mini-roundabout back?
“We have had two to three months of chaos around Bridge Street so it needs to be sorted out quickly.”
Coun Andrew Tebbutt said the system was put forward by Dransfield Properties as part of its supermarket development in Dark Lane and it may not be operating as originally envisaged, with all lights fully synchronised and the same width as previously for the right turn off the bridge.
He said: “Don’t let us forget that prior to the roadworks, at certain times of the day the traffic stretched back right to the Stobhill roundabout and the Sun Inn, and further than that on occasions.
“But I accept now that there are queues when there shouldn’t be queues so it does appear not to be working properly.”
The councillor criticism came at a meeting of the town’s Finance and General Purposes Committee last Wednesday, before new road markings were added.
Committee Chairman David Parker raised the concerns at the county’s North Area Committee the following evening.
“All of us who are councillors in Morpeth have had our ears bent about this over the last week,” he said.
“When the schools get back and another 20 per cent is added to traffic in the mornings and evenings, it’s going to be horrendous.”
He said there was an aspect of ‘public amnesia’ in that there have always been tailbacks at the Telford Bridge, but added: “The public are right, broadly speaking, in saying the thing isn’t working terribly well at the moment.”
County Network Manager Dick Phillips assured him that the new system will work, but there were still issues to iron out.
“I have got every confidence in it working once it settles down. We just have to give it time, it will work,” he said.
Mr Phillips said that officers were monitoring it carefully, as well as using computer modelling, and the public were receiving responses to their letters and emails.
Council Head of Sustainable Transport Mike Scott added that the authority could go back to Dransfield Properties to fund any justifiable improvements.
Coun Richard Dodd said that people moaning in the press could put off visitors.
But Coun Tebbutt said: “The chamber of trade, the town council, county councillors and county officers are all saying Morpeth is open, and the Morpeth Herald is also part of that campaign.”
Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade plans to discuss the lights at its meeting next month.