MORPETH’S temporary one-way system may have been introduced illegally, it has emerged.
The system came into effect on January 20 to enable footpath works to be carried out in Bridge Street.
But now Morpeth North councillor David Bawn, who is a solicitor, has said no legal orders were in place for the start of the work.
He had asked officers at Northumberland County Council for details of the public notices for the orders, but none was produced and on Friday, five days after work began, he was told that the authority’s legal department was making an order with immediate effect.
He said: “As it has now come to light that the Administration has bungled the implementation of the temporary one-way system by failing to put the proper legal orders in place, it is even more imperative that it takes heed of our calls to bring forward free parking and offer relief on the business rates for affected businesses.
“Traders are telling me that the disruption has already led to a dramatic drop in footfall, with the pain being felt across the town centre.
“My concern is that if the council had acted illegally in setting up the disruption it leaves itself wide open to potential legal claims by those who have lost business as a result.”
The one-way system forces traffic coming into the town to turn right at Telford Bridge, with the diversion running through Stanley Terrace, Wellway, Manchester Street and Newgate Street.
The work is expected to run for six weeks, but the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade has warned that so dramatic is the fall in custom since the system came into force that some business may not survive that long.
Chamber spokesman John Beynon said: “We did a straw-poll on the effect of the roadworks and it is looking pretty dire.
“Of everyone we spoke to about 90 per cent of businesses were down on trade, some quite dramatically. There is a leading independent trader who has said they can only last two or three weeks like this — that is how drastically down trade is.
“We have heard figures ranging from ten or 15 per cent reductions in trade right down to 40 per cent.”
Mr Beynon has repeated calls for free parking to be introduced to try to draw more shoppers into the town.
“Traders think that free parking is the best thing that might help them. If we can advertise that Morpeth is open and there is free parking it would be a boost for the town,” he said.
The chamber is also calling on the council to offer business rate relief.
Mr Beynon said: “When we had the one-way system two years ago a few shops went for rate relief. They found it very difficult to go through the process because it was very difficult and complicated, and at the end they didn’t get a lot of money back. I think it was about £40. They need more help now.
“I don’t think the council realises how bad it is. It says the traffic is moving smoothly, but there is not the amount of traffic on the streets that we are used to. People just aren’t coming to the town.”
A council spokeswoman said: “We put a temporary Traffic Regulation Order in place for the one-way system for the duration of the footpaths works in the town centre.
“The Traffic Regulation Order that we are using is being operated fully within the law. Following concerns from Coun Bawn, we implemented an emergency Traffic Regulation Order, but a full TTRO will be implemented for the duration of the work.
“We would advise businesses who want to claim a business tax rebate to contact the council to make an application and this will be considered.”