TOWN traders have warned that businesses will close if no quick action is taken on the new Morpeth traffic lights.
The warning was issued at a public meeting last week about the signals at Telford Bridge as furious residents complained that the lights are causing congestion and confusion.
Business leader John Beynon, who is Chairman of the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade, said the problem is driving away customers.
But county council chiefs said that the signals need more time to settle in and will continue to be monitored for at least another two months before any decision will be taken about their removal.
Mr Beynon said: “We know what is going on. Talk to the public and talk to the traders. We live in the town and work in the town and know what the traffic is like. It doesn’t work as well as the roundabout.
“You keep saying give it time. Unfortunately, traders in Morpeth can’t wait. We have the recession, we have had 10 weeks of roadworks that nearly closed the town and now we have this. We can’t hold out. There are traders going out of business because of this.
“How many businesses do you want to go out of business in the town? You need to do something about it now.”
He called for more support from Northumberland County Council after it ignored traders’ pleas for free parking to be offered during the roadworks, and criticised local councillors for not visiting businesses to ask how they are faring.
“The Chamber of Trade is working flat out to try to promote Morpeth. We have done so through the roadworks and the traffic lights. We are putting events on and spending money on advertising. All we ask is for the local councillors and the council to help us,” he said.
“We are trying to promote Morpeth, saying Morpeth is open, come into Morpeth, and every day people are telling us that people are not coming into Morpeth because of the lights.
“I have never seen a reaction like this for anything that has happened in the town. Please councillors, don’t be arrogant, listen to the public. You are the ones that make the decisions, don’t blame the officers.”
Later in the meeting he said councillors should admit the traffic lights are a mistake and take action now to address it.
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“You say you are listening, but you are not really listening, you are paying lip service to it. You are saying give it until July. I told you how things are. Some of the businesses can’t last that long. People are telling you it is not working. .
“Please listen to the public, listen to the traders and do something about it. Don’t say ‘wait another three months’, do something now. Put your hand up and say you could have been wrong and you will be congratulated for that.”
Ken Stait, who runs a photography business in the town, said that delays at the lights at non-peak times were the real problem for customers.
“The problem from a business perspective is when people are making the choice to come into Morpeth the build ups during the day at non-peak times are making the choice for the customers,” he said.
“I talk to a lot of businesses and everybody is reporting around 20 to 30 percent decline in takings from when the roadworks started. At the end of the roadworks we thought it would be a recovery phase and we would get back up to the levels we were experiencing before, but that has not happened. We are really suffering.
“You are making the choice for the customers because they are hitting the back of a queue at Stobhill at 10.20am, 11am, 1pm. The roundabout was always going to be snarled up at school run times and first thing in the morning, but now the congestion is constant.”
He added: “The sooner the county council looks at Morpeth as a business unit that employs in excess of 1,500 people and everything you do has a negative or positive consequence on the job prospects of these people the better for all concerned. Alcan is closing, which is terrible, and everyone is running around trying to protect the 500 jobs, but Morpeth employs over 1,000 people and you need to treat it with a bit of respect.”
Northumberland County Council has pledged to hold a further public meeting in July to present more evidence about the operation of the lights and whether they are effective.
Coun Andrew Tebbutt said: “We have all heard about the traffic lights and whether they should come out, but we have to give them a little bit of time because that junction has always been suffering from over capacity.
“I will give a commitment here and now that we will review this by July. I’m quite happy to reconvene this meeting in July. If it is then recommended that they come out, I will recommend that, but at the end of the day the officers will make a judgement based on all the evidence.
“I have the commitment of the Corporate Director of Local Services that she will order them to be taken out and that the developer will pay for that if they are wrong.”
The next public meeting will be held at Morpeth Town Hall on Thursday, July 12, at 6.30pm.