A PUBLIC meeting has been called about the new Morpeth traffic lights as calls intensify for the reinstatement of the mini-roundabout.
Anger is mounting at the introduction of the lights at Telford Bridge as traffic is frequently brought to a standstill at all times of the day and night.
A Facebook action group, which was formed on Sunday to heap pressure on Northumberland County Council to change the system, attracted more than 1,000 members in just 24 hours.
And local traders say business is suffering as much as it was during the ten weeks of town centre roadworks earlier this year.
However, bosses at County Hall say they have no plans to bring back the roundabout.
Chairman of the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade John Beynon said: “It is as bad as when we had the roadworks. Businesses are really struggling.
“I get stopped by members of the public on a daily basis who are complaining about the traffic lights. People could understand why we had to have the roadworks, despite the inconvenience, but the traffic lights are really causing a big problem.
“Traders and members of the public are angry at how it has been done.
“One day last week the lights were off and the traffic flowed smoothly all morning.
“A lot of people are saying that trade is down as much as during the roadworks and it seems that people are avoiding Morpeth because of the traffic lights. Traders just want the mini-roundabout back.
“All we hear is that the lights will settle down, but we have had ten weeks of roadworks and now this and there are lots of local businesses who are just hanging on.”
The traffic signals were introduced at the junction of Telford Bridge, Bridge Street and Dark Lane in preparation for an expected increase in traffic when the new Morrisons supermarket development by Dransfield Properties opens off Dark Lane.
But many residents have complained that they were not fully consulted about the system and they say the former mini-roundabout worked well in keeping traffic moving.
Concerns have also been raised that the lights are confusing, with traffic from two different directions given the green light at the same time and a lack of clarity about a left-hand filter lane onto Telford Bridge, while nearby pedestrian lights are also impeding the traffic flow.
Now a public meeting has been organised by the local Conservative group to enable people to have their say. County council officers and members are also expected to attend.
Conservative spokesman for Morpeth North, David Bawn, said: “A number of residents have contacted me to express concern about the delays caused by the new road layout. Businesses in Morpeth have also reported their concerns that trade has not returned to the levels seen prior to the imposition of the temporary one-way system.
“It is worrying that this important decision was taken without any consultation with the public. Our meeting on Thursday is a chance to put this right and I strongly encourage residents upset about the new road layout to come along to voice their opinion.”
Facebook users are already queuing up to express their frustration after the Morpeth Traffic Light Fiasco (Telford Bridge Junction of Death) group was set up by David Clark.
At the time of the Herald going to print it had 1,377 members.
One resident, Alan McCubbin, tried to set up an e-petition at the Government’s website seeking support from the Department for Transport to remove the lights and reinstate the roundabout, but it was rejected as a matter for the county council to resolve.
A spokesman for Northumberland County Council said: “There are no plans to bring back the roundabout.
“We are monitoring the situation and evidence shows that the operation of the junction is improving. We have committed to report back to the North Area Committee on this subject and will do this on an ongoing basis.”
Morpeth county councillor Andrew Tebbutt added: “Most of the evidence I’m receiving is that the traffic lights are working a lot better.
“We must remember that there was congestion prior to the roadworks and the lights were never designed to make all of that congestion disappear — that is why we are spending a lot of money on the Northern Bypass. The traffic lights make the junction work more effectively than a roundabout.
“We recognise that there are still some concerns, but the evidence we have got is that congestion is no worse. We are monitoring it.”
A spokeswoman for Dransfield Properties said there have been meetings with traffic engineers and highways officers at the site and the signal timings will be reviewed in an attempt to minimise queuing, but it is an intricate process.
She added: “When we looked at this junction this was the only solution that all parties felt would work and the existing mini-roundabout was not operating very well. The local authority had an existing aspiration to upgrade this junction and improve the flow of traffic through the town centre.
“There may be some minor amendments we need to make after reviewing the timings, but we remain confident that the issues can be resolved.”
The public meeting will be held at Morpeth Town Hall next Thursday, at 6.30pm.