THE one-way system is finally over – but efforts to attract people back to Morpeth’s shops will continue.
Businesses in the town centre have suffered a drop in trade since the temporary traffic restrictions came into effect ten weeks ago to allow for co-ordinated utility works.
Things have picked up a little in recent weeks after organisations came together to put on special events and advertise that Morpeth was still open for business, with residents coming out in decent numbers to support local independent traders.
And now that two-way traffic will resume today or tomorrow, the focus is shifting to attracting people from other areas back to the town.
Meanwhile, there has been both praise and criticism of Northumberland County Council over its involvement and decisions made during the works.
Soon after the one-way system began, the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade, Greater Morpeth Development Trust and Dransfield Properties started a promotional campaign that was supported by Morpeth Town Council and Northumbrian Water among others.
They arranged some entertainment and stalls on the Market Place throughout February. There were also some special offers to entice shoppers to stores in Bridge Street, Newgate Street and Sanderson Arcade.
Chamber Chairman John Beynon said: “It’s a great relief for all traders in the town that the one-way system is ending.
“There has been a lot of pain for businesses, but the efforts to support Morpeth through this difficult time after the tough first few weeks have made a difference.
“We’ve had a fantastic response from local residents as many of them came along to the events and have continued to shop with the independent traders.
“But we can’t stop now and over the coming weeks it’s vitally important to attract people from outside the area who have avoided Morpeth in the last two months back to the town centre. That’s why the campaign will continue into the summer.”
On Friday at 11am, town leaders and business people will join town Mayor Phil Taylor to mark the completion of the roadworks.
An hour later, he will formally open the improved T&G Allan alleyway off Newgate Street, where the rest of Ivan Webley’s artwork showing scenes around Morpeth will be unveiled.
Rutherfords of Morpeth owner Richard Rutherford said: “We have been through a rough ten weeks and I feel particularly sorry for the small businesses that have really struggled.
“Having said that, after a bad January people did get used to it and numbers have improved greatly in the last couple of weeks, which hopefully bodes well for the next few months.
“The works had to be done and I’m grateful to the contractors for keeping us fully informed throughout.”
The one-way system was needed because Northumbrian Water had to upgrade a 300-metre section of water pipe in Bridge Street as it was in a poor structural condition.
The county council arranged for some gas works and the installation of underground cabling for traffic lights at the end of Telford Bridge, which will come into operation in about 18 months’ time with the opening of the new supermarket in Low Stanners, to be carried out at the same time.
Mr Beynon said: “I think county council Network Manager Dick Phillips and his highways team did an excellent job in co-ordinating the programme and making sure it ran to schedule.
“However, we were disappointed that the senior officers did not introduce some free parking periods during the ten weeks to attract more people to the town centre and with the lack of support on the issue from Morpeth’s four county councillors.”
A county council spokeswoman said: “The roadworks will be complete by Friday morning. If at all possible, the road will be open to two-way traffic before then.”