AROUND 200 extra cars an hour are using Morpeth residential streets since town centre traffic lights were installed.
Residents of Church Walk reported counting 208 vehicles in the area over 60 minutes, and 49 in one 10-minute spell alone, as drivers turn to the rat run to avoid the signals at Telford Bridge.
Northumberland County Council Network Manager Dick Phillips admitted that at the last check an additional three cars a minute were using the route compared to previously.
“There is an increase in Church Walk and Spelvit Lane, there is no doubt about that,” he said.
The figures were revealed at Thursday’s public meeting.
The signals were installed to try to accommodate an expected increase in traffic when the new Dark Lane supermarket opens.
But some residents in Kirkhill say their streets are now being used as a rat run, including by lorries and transporters. One man said he has to get his car out the drive at 5.30am to avoid the traffic, and another warned that the situation would be even worse if there was a better junction at The Sun Inn.
County councillor Richard Dodd said: “I’m a former user of Telford Bridge and I sneak through the rat runs. When I came here tonight I came by The Wansbeck pub and now it seems other people have found the route I use. Traffic was built up there.
“I couldn’t get parked so I came back out and there was all these cars. People were doing u-turns and trying all different directions. You have the wacky races in Morpeth. I thought the boy racers were a problem in Morpeth, but you have solved that, they can’t race anywhere now.”
A council leaflet suggested the increase in traffic in Abbey Meadows, St Mary’s Field and Curly Kews was more likely to be attributable to the road closure in High House Lane.
The council said that while some off-peak journey times in the town have increased by up to 30 seconds since the lights were installed, delays at peak times from Stobhillgate to Bridge Street have reduced from 20 minutes when the roundabout was in place to between eight and 12 minutes now.
However, locals said that is not their experience.
One woman said: “For the last five years I have been coming into Morpeth every Friday morning at 11.30am and I have never encountered tailbacks like I have since the lights were installed. They are not working.”
Resident Bob Robertson said: “If you stand outside Dransfield’s arcade in Morpeth and look left you will see lots of traffic lights and a queue, if you look right you won’t see a queue, you will see a roundabout working.”
Another man said: “I live in Stobhill and quite frankly the traffic is becoming so bad coming into the estate now, it is like that 24/7. It is dangerous.
“I have found getting out of the road is getting worse and worse. The traffic is built up at 7.30am and I have to put my car in the middle of the highway if I want to turn right.
“People are talking about the junction, but they have failed to take account of the whole infrastructure of the town.
“It seems to do more with shoe-horning a big-sized store into a small town that is not made for the infrastructure. I have seen these stores in other parts of the country and in all these areas they get it right, but in Morpeth they have made a hash of it yet again. We are going to have gridlock 24/7 in the next few years.”
Loansdean resident David Holden warned the problem will get worse if a bid by Bellway to build 200 homes on the southern edge of the town is granted.
“This is going to get worse, then better, then worse again,” he said.
“First of all we will get the new supermarket opening and it will get worse, then we will have the Morpeth Northern Bypass opening, which we are told will mean 18 per cent less traffic through the town, so it will make things better, but if we lose the inquiry for 200 homes to be built on the edge of the town at Loansdean there are going to be 300 extra cars trying to come north over the Telford Bridge. That will add to the problems.”
However, resident Steven Rickett spoke in favour of the new system.
“I support the lights. I think they have made that junction far safer because the mini-roundabout did not work. It was a case of who could move faster. If you were behind a car that was hesitant and cautious it wouldn’t work, no matter what the direction was,” he said.
“I have lived in Morpeth for 24 years and I can never remember a time when there wasn’t traffic congestion running past The Sun Inn or the Mafeking Park roundabout, and there has always been congestion from Stobhill.”
Mr Rickett said a one-way system in the town centre would further improve the situation and a controlled junction at Whalton Road would make the Kirkhill junction better.
He also called for all data about the new lights to be put online.
“I don’t see why Dransfield and the county council can’t put the relevant data on the website so if people want to misunderstand it they can, but they can see it and see the analysis,” he said.
“If these lights are to come out it has to be on the basis of a rational decision and by putting the data online everybody can look at it and make their own minds up. They might come to the wrong judgement, but that is life.”