Plans for a roundabout stall over plot losses

Plans to install a new Morpeth roundabout have hit a snag after Government officials said it is not needed.

A large roundabout had been envisaged to provide access to Morpeth NHS Centre and future housing development on the St George’s Hospital site as an alternative to traffic lights.

The facility would take up some of the land from Tommy’s Field Allotments and it was agreed in principle by Morpeth Town Council and Northumberland County Council that a bigger site would be provided near East Riding care home to accommodate any displaced plot-holders.

However, the deal required approval from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles.

Now his department has informed the councils that there is no justification for the allotment land to be transferred as St George’s developer Linden Homes says there is no need for a roundabout and traffic lights would suffice.

The house builder has previously told councillors that it is open to the idea of a roundabout, but until the land is available the ‘only viable and deliverable options is a signalised junction’.

Town councillor Nic Best said: “Since the planning application talks about traffic lights the Department for Communities and Local Government’s (DCLG) allotment people quite properly said there is no overwhelming argument for removing allotment land for a roundabout, as we had called for.

“Our concern as a council about this is that the planning application has gone ahead with traffic lights and we know that traffic lights are not an adequate solution, a roundabout is the solution.

“We need to make it quite clear that we would not approve of this application if it had traffic lights, we would approve of it if it had a roundabout.

“The DCLG is not saying no, it is saying there just isn’t enough evidence that a roundabout is needed.”

The matter was discussed by Morpeth Town Council’s Planning and Transport Committee.

Acting Chairman Bob Robertson said: “The feeling is that we hadn’t worded our views on this forcefully enough when considering the planning application by Linden Homes.

“We need to think about how best we can make it clear to the developer that the only way we are prepared to accept its proposal is if it is prepared to install a roundabout prior to the building of the first houses, not to put in traffic lights and subject the town to massive congestion.

“The Secretary of State has informed us that he has been swayed by a report that says traffic lights are adequate. We know, the highways department knows, and the county council knows they are not.”

Coun Alison Byard added: “We have had previous experience of traffic lights and they were pretty unpopular and only caused more delays. This is a busy town and we don’t want to do anything that causes delays to traffic.”

The council will object to the application for detailed planning consent for 119 homes and outline permission for a further 256 at St George’s unless a roundabout is included.

The roundabout would take up 460 square metres of land from Tommy’s Field, affecting parts of seven allotments. However, the site beside East Riding would amount to 5,060 square metres, enabling additional plots to be provided.

Conditions for the land swap would ensure appropriate access, car parking, security and water supply.

However, Tommy’s Field Allotment Association is opposed to the plan, saying the new site is too far away, would need considerable work and access is dangerous.