POLICE have backed claims that Morpeth congestion has been made worse by new traffic lights.
Signals were installed at the town’s Telford Bridge junction in April in a bid to increase capacity in advance of a new supermarket opening off Dark Lane.
But a 2,500-name petition, protest march, Facebook campaign and two public meetings have shown strong public opposition to the lights, with complaints that they are dangerous, unsightly and confusing.
Pedestrians have complained of buses and large vehicles overhanging the pavement as they try to negotiate the tight right-hand turn from the bridge, and there are also concerns about crossing points.
Now police have confirmed that congestion is also a problem.
In response to a letter by Lights Out campaign group Chairman David Towns, Superintendent Andy McDyer said: “In relation to your complaint that the installation of the traffic light junction has, if anything, increased congestion rather than ease it as was intended, having spoken to roads policing officers who work in the relevant area, they appear to agree that this is in fact the case.
“Officers describe that lengthy queues regularly form at the junction, particularly on the westbound approach, with traffic regularly queuing a considerable distance back along the A197 into Damside.
“These westbound queues also regularly block a mini roundabout located at the junction of Bridge Street and Gas House Lane, impeding access both to and from The Terrace public car park located to the south of Gas House Lane.”
Supt McDyer added that there have been three road collisions recorded in the area in the past three years.
Coun Towns, whose group is calling for the lights to be removed and a roundabout reinstated, said: “The letter from Supt McDyer at Northumbria Police is, in our view, conclusive evidence that congestion is on the whole worse than before the lights were put in place.
“Who knows better about traffic movements as problems than the local police officers who patrol our roads and streets? They are clearly saying that Morpeth’s traffic problem has worsened.
“The police also say that the general area of the roundabout suffered only three accidents in three years and as such was certainly not an accident blackspot.
“In stark contrast, the lights were installed only five months ago and already we’ve had over-swinging vehicles, a lamppost knocked over and the lights themselves hit a number of times. What more evidence does the council need?”
A review of the entire Morpeth road network, including the new system, will get under way next week with a meeting of key stakeholders on Monday.
The campaign group, town and county councillors, Greater Morpeth Development Trust, emergency services, Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade, Arriva, Dransfield Properties, council officers, Northumberland County Blind Association and local schools have all been invited to attend the session, which will be chaired by Midlands-based traffic management expert Phil Jones.
The workshop aims to establish a hierarchy of road users, common objectives for the transport network, potential solutions to problems and immediate, medium and long-term alternatives for the Telford Bridge junction.
In advance of the session, the chamber of trade has formally backed calls for the lights to be taken out and replaced with a roundabout.
At a meeting of the group on Monday member Ken Stait said: “From my experience over the last few months and the level of trade drop that we are experiencing it is something that the chamber needs to definitely put forward that we want the traffic lights removed.
“We feel that the traffic lights are making customers’ choices for them. We need to make it as easy as possible to access the
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town throughout the day and the lights really are having a negative effect.
“The worrying thing is that it will affect the viability and vitality of the town centre, and employment and jobs. The commercial centre employs a lot of people and we need to make it as easy as possible to access.”
The chamber will also request statistics about the usage of the junction and congestion.