Crusade to change lights

A PROTEST march against Morpeth traffic lights is set to take place next month.

Campaigners are planning to march from the Market Place to County Hall to show their opposition to the signals at Telford Bridge.

The protest has been organised by members of a Facebook page against the lights and leaflets and posters will be distributed around the town to ensure it has maximum public support.

In addition, a Lights Out campaign has been launched, calling for the signals to be removed and a roundabout reinstated.

The group, which is supported by Morpeth Conservatives and the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade, has set up a dedicated website to highlight its concerns, provide links to technical data and show images and video of problems encountered at the signals.

Morpeth Town Council has been invited to sign up and members of the public are encouraged to submit their own photographs and videos to the site.

Chairman David Towns said: “After the second public meeting about the lights it became apparent that the county council seemed reluctant to listen to concerns and we just thought what more can we do? We felt that a focused, organised campaign that brought together all the people with their various expertise and backgrounds was a good idea.

“Our website is funded by Morpeth Conservatives, but it is not politically motivated. If we are going to get these lights taken out it can’t just be a Conservative campaign, it has got to be done with residents, businesses and other councillors as well.

“I would hope that a good number of people will take part in the protest march and voice their concerns. It is asking a bit more of them than coming along to a meeting for a couple of hours, but the council has had two meetings, a 2,000-name petition, letters in the Herald and a Facebook page telling it that most people think the lights are terrible, but it still won’t listen so this is the next step to ramp up the pressure and take the issue to its doorstep.”

The lights were installed after Dransfield Properties and Northumberland County Council concluded that the former roundabout would be unable to cope with an expected increase in traffic when a new supermarket opens off Dark Lane.

But hundreds of residents turned out at two public meetings to voice their anger about the signals, complaining they pose a safety risk, cause congestion and have led to a new rat-run being created in St Mary’s Field.

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And last week the Herald revealed that Morpeth Town Council had also called for a rethink of the junction, seeking firm evidence about the options.

It has emerged that one proposal previously rejected by the county council was based on a ‘shared spaces’ design by world-renowned expert Ben Hamilton-Baillie.

The scheme centres on slowing traffic speed to ensure a more steady flow, integrated with free pedestrian movement.

Mr Hamilton-Baillie warned strongly against the use of traffic lights as the phases increase delays, and he said existing pedestrian crossings and road markings could be removed.

His design aimed to fit in with the character of the area and would build on the roundabout arrangement, using an informal roundel that could be overrun by vehicles, narrow lanes, wide, shallow kerbs and ‘courtesy crossing lines’ for pedestrians.

The report was commissioned by Dransfield Properties, but was rejected as unsuitable by the county council.

However, Mr Hamilton-Baillie said it would have worked.

“It was up to the council what was installed, I was just looking at alternatives, and in my view a more effective alternative approach to handle that space and that junction,” he said.

“I think it probably would work. There are certain times at peak periods when there would be congestion, but for most of the day it would be fine and it could also cope with the peak periods.

“It is very difficult to model these things in advance. I do similar studies for a lot of towns and some work and some don’t, but on the whole there is now more confidence in not having to use traffic lights.”

A county council spokeswoman said: “This report was one of several produced as part of the detailed planning process. It was concluded that a shared space scheme option would not be appropriate for this junction.

“The council is satisfied that the traffic signals at Bridge Street in Morpeth are safe and have reduced delays for motorists at peak times. Dransfield Properties is seeking ways to reduce delays further, especially outside peak times.”

Dransfield Properties spokeswoman Amanda Holmes said: “We commissioned and paid for a report by the traffic and design consultancy Hamilton-Baillie into a shared space scheme for Morpeth at the request of the local authority.

“The findings were given to the council for it to consider, but it decided not to take this scheme forward as it was not an appropriate scheme for the main arterial route at this time and it was felt that the junction would function better with a traffic light system.

“Following the public concern about the lights system we have continued to invest time and money into monitoring the junction. Dransfield Properties is a major stakeholder in Morpeth and we are committed to working with the community and the authority to make sure this is resolved satisfactorily.”

The protest march is scheduled for Monday, September 3, at 11am.

For more information about the Lights Out campaign, or to submit photographs or videos, visit www.lightsout.org.uk/main