TOWN councillors have called for a major rethink of Morpeth traffic lights.
More than 2,000 people have signed a petition calling for the Telford Bridge signals to be removed and a roundabout reinstated, while two public meetings have been packed with residents and businesses complaining about the lights.
Northumberland County Council, which is responsible for highways, insisted that there are no immediate plans to remove the signals and that evidence shows they are effective.
But now Morpeth Town Council has joined the backlash.
Coun David Parker, who represented the authority at one of the meetings, said: “We need to be saying to the county council that we have listened to the people of Morpeth and clearly the people do not think that the traffic lights meet the present or future needs of this town in relation to potential traffic going to the supermarket, in relation to the street scene, in relation to health and safety issues at Telford Bridge and because they are adding a significant amount of traffic along St Mary’s Field.
“We call on the county council to find an alternative solution to the situation at Telford Bridge that will meet the needs of the town and at the same time ensure that the needs of pedestrians are met in a way which is safe.”
He added: “It is not a question of winning or losing. The only people who should win are the people of Morpeth, not in the sense of getting rid of the traffic lights, but winning in the sense that traffic and pedestrians are able to go about their business in the town and that they are able to do it in a safe way.”
The response was agreed at a meeting of the full council after Coun Parker reported back on the latest public meeting about the lights, which was held in Morpeth Town Hall last month.
He said it is important to bear in mind that the signals were installed to cope with an expected 20 per cent increase in traffic from the new supermarket at Dark Lane. However, he said it was unacceptable that a rat-run for traffic had been created in St Mary’s Field and serious questions had been raised about pedestrian safety in the town centre.
He personally had seen four cars mount the pavement at St George’s Church and he was appalled to hear one woman say she was scared to use the footpath because of the overhang from large vehicles turning right.
“The trouble is that because the majority of people are car owners and the minority are not, the minority get forgotten about,” he said. “The car is king so often, but we don’t want residents of the town, whether elderly or not, to be afraid of walking on the pavement. That is their right, that is where they are king and that is where they should remain king.”
Coun Parker said he was not convinced that trade had suffered as a result of the signals, but on balance they should be removed.
“I have listened to the public and I have heard what they have said. Clearly what they say is that the traffic lights do not meet their needs. Some people don’t like them because of their appearance and the effect on the street scene, others are concerned about them for safety reasons. People’s reasons vary, but they don’t like them and don’t want them,” he said.
Coun Phil Taylor said he had noticed an increase in traffic in Church Walk as a result of the rat-run and had seen a large vehicle dangerously over-hanging the pavement at the Bridge Street junction.
Coun Ed Hillier added: “I am concerned about the displacement of traffic because I have been contacted by residents saying it has increased massively in St Mary’s Field. Regardless of what they do with the traffic lights, once people have established that as a route through they are going to carry on using that.”
Coun Ian Lindley said it is clear the new system is not working as there are queues at all times of the day, while less traffic is using the junction, and he also criticised the appearance of the signals .
However, his main concern was that the county council had not adequately considered alternatives as expert design consultant Ben Hamilton-Baillie had already drawn up proposals for a ‘shared spaces’ roundabout system.
“We have had a design done by the world’s leading authority on this, that is my solution. There is a solution designed up, have a look at it,” he said.
Fellow members agreed that not enough information has been given about possible alternatives to the lights and said the county council must look at the options and give a detailed report to the public about each of them.
Morpeth Mayor Mark Horton said: “The Government has said it wants people to be involved and wants the public to be heard and yet we are starting to see, with the lights and other forms of planning, that people feel they are not being heard.
“The lights might at the end of the day be a necessary evil, but the problem at the moment is we haven’t really been given any alternatives to make our own minds up. People feel these lights are being forced on them.”
He added: “I don’t see how we can stay with this. We want to see something happen fairly soon. We don’t want to see it put on the back burner for 12 months, waiting for results.”
The council will write to Northumberland County Council seeking action on its points.