Peak journey times from Stobhill to Morpeth town centre take just 221 seconds, experts say.
The astonishing figure was revealed at a planning inquiry into a bid by Barratt David Wilson Homes and Tees Valley Housing to build almost 400 homes beside the A192 and A196.
Expert consultants for both Barratt and Northumberland County Council agreed that it takes on average just three minutes and 41 seconds to travel from the Stobhill roundabout to Bridge Street in rush hour.
However, the Hepscott and Morpeth Together (HMT) group said the figures do not match residents’ experiences.
In her proof of evidence to the inquiry, HMT member Joan Tebbutt said: “Experts admit that modelling cannot be 100 per cent accurate, but we believe that the outcomes produced bear little relationship to what residents experience.
“After hearing about the 221 second am peak journey, I timed the same journey at 5.27pm last Thursday at the acknowledged lower pm peak, on a sunny day when sustainable travel modes are at their most attractive, and in school holidays. It took 217 seconds at 30mph where possible and with little delay.
“It is inconceivable that the am peak time during the school term, which covers 77 per cent of the year, in winter and other bad weather, would only be four seconds longer.”
She added: “Such anecdotal evidence is easily dismissed, but this community proved the experts wrong in relation to a set of traffic lights installed at the Telford Bridge junction. ‘Expert’ modelling made the junction dangerous and resulted in utter chaos on the local highway network. Another ‘expert’ was engaged, only to prove that the community had been correct in the first place so the traffic lights were eventually removed.”
Traffic models produced by the consultants found that when the proposed Morpeth Northern Bypass is in place, expected by 2021, the journey time would reduce to 169 seconds. However, if the proposed development at Stobhill was added to the equation, it would still take 221 seconds.
Transport Planning Technical Director Chris Jolley, called by the council, said the traffic impact of the housing scheme would be so severe as to warrant refusal.
“In my opinion, the development would create an unacceptable impact on northbound journey times and journey speeds in that area,” he said.
“Without the bypass, the traffic impact should properly be considered to be severe, and with the bypass scenario the impact significantly diminishes the benefits that should be secured.”
However, WSP Consultant Ronan Craig, speaking for Barratt, said: “It has long been an aspiration for Northumberland to have the bypass delivered and I don’t think this would diminish the gain in totality.
“The Morpeth Northern Bypass links to the north of the settlement and the benefits should be delivered across the whole of the settlement, not just one particular link. It also offers improved highway connections to south east Northumberland and I don’t see any particular harm to that.
“The position with the bypass is that the journey will take 221 seconds. I don’t think that represents a congested network. It doesn’t justify refusal of consent.”
The experts also disagreed on the site’s accessibility to shops, services and public transport links.
While Mr Craig said that all bus stops are within 400m of the site, Mr Jolley said that none of the buses serving the area offer an express link to Newcastle, in contrast to the Loansdean route.
And when Mr Craig said there was good access to local shops, with Sainsbury’s in Shields Road only 11 minutes walk away, Mr Jolley said the 1,200m distance to the store was beyond both the recognised desirable 400m and acceptable 800m walking distances.
“The distances presented suggest to me that many people will not walk to the local convenience store,” he said.
Coun Tebbutt said that residents still have concerns about the safety of introducing two new junctions on the A196, making a total of five, and called for the provision of safe pedestrian and cycle routes.