A NEW safety barrier at Morpeth traffic lights has been likened to Checkpoint Charlie.
The temporary concrete wall has been erected outside Louis Johnson’s Auction House in Bridge Street to stop large vehicles overhanging the pavement as they negotiate a tight turn off Telford Bridge.
But the barrier, which could be replaced by permanent bollards at a later date, has come in for criticism for spoiling a key gateway to the town.
Chairman of the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade John Beynon said: “I have had dozens of comments about this since the barrier was put up, not just from members of the chamber, but from members of the public as well.
“It has been likened to everything from Checkpoint Charlie to Beirut.
“I know it is a temporary measure and bollards might be put up, but if there are no safety issues, as the council says, why do we need a barrier? It makes the town look awful.
“One of these days the county council has to face the truth and recognise that it has made a mistake with these lights and rectify it, but I don’t think that will ever happen unfortunately.
“I must have had 20 or 30 members of the public come to see me, and more who have stopped me in the street, about this. It is just a crazy situation.”
Northumberland County Council installed the temporary barrier at the weekend to reassure the public after concerns were raised at recent public meetings about pedestrian safety at the junction.
Other measures, such as adjustments to lane markings, changes to signal sighting and bollards outside St George’s Church will also be put in place in the coming weeks.
But Morpeth resident Bob Robertson, who is a member of the Lights Out campaign group calling for the new signals to be replaced with a roundabout, says concerns remain.
He said: “Lights Out and its supporters have gathered photographic and video evidence that the right turn from Telford Bridge is too tight for larger vehicles, often leading to the front nearside passing over a significant part of the pavement. This move by Northumberland County Council is all but an admission that it has got it wrong and that the new junction is not fit for purpose.
“Whilst the introduction of the barriers does nothing to improve the visual impact of the junction, and frankly further spoils this valuable gateway to Northumberland, we welcome any move to safeguard pedestrians.
“However, large vehicles are now passing dangerously close to the lights themselves and this remains a serious threat to public safety.”
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Another resident Gordon Brown said the junction is now too tight for large vehicles.
“A number of years back when Castle Morpeth Council looked to pedestrianise Bridge Street, the county council blocked it because it had to be kept open for wide and heavy loads. Now with the traffic lights it has effectively blocked that route anyway — a wide load or a heavy load just can’t get round there any more.
“There used to be traffic lights at the Blue House crossroads in Newcastle and because of the build-up of traffic they put a roundabout in. That was a lot of years ago and the roundabout is still there and working a lot more effectively than what is going on in Bridge Street.”
Council Head of Sustainable Transport Mike Scott said the authority is considering all options for the lights.
“We are listening to the views of local people and we take the issue of safety seriously. Therefore we are going to consider all future options for the traffic lights scheme and we want to work with local people to agree a long-term solution,” he said.
“We want to hear all views so that we make the right decision to maintain Morpeth’s position as a thriving and beautiful market town.
“The junction has been carefully designed and analysed and provides a safe layout. However, we are aware of recent cases of driver error at the junction. We also accept that there is a perception amongst some pedestrians that walking past the junction is not entirely safe.
“The barrier will provide an important extra improvement that protects pedestrians and addresses driver error by preventing large vehicles overhanging the footway as they turn right from Telford Bridge to Damside.”
Council Executive Member for Infrastructure Simon Reed added: “Following lengthy discussions about the appropriate course of action to take, we have taken precautionary measures to alleviate a perceived safety risk at the Telford Bridge junction.
“Public safety is of paramount importance. It is the first concern I and the council’s traffic engineers have, and that concern underpins every decision we take.”
Coun Reed also slammed the Northumberland Conservative group for politicising the issue after the Party said it would remove the lights and reinstate a roundabout if they are elected to run the council next year.
“I am disappointed with the opportunistic manner in which the Conservatives have acted since these lights were installed, especially given that they initially backed the decision to install them — it has not helped the situation at all,” he said.
But Conservative member and Lights Out Chairman David Towns hit back.
He said: “The erection of the barriers was accompanied by a statement from Coun Reed in which he said the barriers were installed due to ‘perceived’ problems with the junction. This statement is sadly typical of this council’s administration.
“Thousands of Morpeth residents face real problems every day with these lights and to infer they are making it up is a disgrace. Coun Reed should apologise to the people of Morpeth.”