Request for streetscape meeting turned down

The area where the streetscape works in Stobhill will be carried out.
The area where the streetscape works in Stobhill will be carried out.

A request for a public meeting to discuss concerns over a major streetscape scheme in Morpeth has been turned down.

The pilot ‘civilised design’ project in Stobhill, which includes elements of the shared-space concept, will result in a new look for a key road crossing area that includes the junctions of Shields Road, Jobling Crescent, First Avenue and Third Avenue at a cost of £280,000.

This involves removing some pavements and road markings to create an open space for both pedestrians and vehicles and if successful, it will be rolled out to a few other areas of Northumberland.

It is being led by Morpeth Stobhill county councillor Ian Lindley.

After safety fears were expressed by people living in the area, including some Stobhill ward town councillors, and members of the Northumberland (Low Vision) Action Group, local resident Rachael Hogg wrote to him and the county council’s highways department.

She asked for the scheme to be postponed pending a public meeting where residents, disability groups, Northumbria Police, and school and community group representatives would be invited.

However, the request has been refused, with the council saying that sufficient consultation has already been carried out.

Miss Hogg said: “We believe Coun Lindley held a meeting on the subject, which was not well publicised and was attended by only seven Stobhill residents.

“The subject has had much discussion on the Morpeth Matters Facebook forum and an online poll with 184 responses showed 95 per cent of local residents are against this scheme.

“I’m very disappointed that Coun Lindley and the county council’s highways department have taken this stance.

“We have contacted local MP Ian Lavery and Ian Swithenbank, portfolio holder for streetcare and environment at the county council, asking them to intervene.”

Stobhill town councillor Johnny Wearmouth said such a meeting would have been an opportunity for the county council ‘to not just listen to, but address the concerns of ourselves and members of the public’.

He added: “At first I thought that this was just something that nobody really wanted and was a bit of a waste of money.

“However, the more I read about these schemes, the more concerning it gets. Reports of deaths, the cancelling of similar projects and a full inquiry by MPs suggests to me that the county council needs to take another look at this before it is too late.”

The group has joined forces with Sarah Gayton, who has spearheaded a national anti-shared space campaign.

Coun Lindley has previously stated that the design includes tactile paving to allow blind and partially sighted pedestrians to align themselves and to warn of hazards.

A council spokesman said: “While we appreciate there have been some local concerns, the project has already been subject to a great deal of public consultation and is now at the stage where the scheme is about to start.

“These schemes take a different approach to reducing traffic speed, improving safety, reducing the dominance of cars over pedestrians and cyclists and improving the streetscape compared to more conventional designs.

“The original proposals to consider elements of shared space at this location resulted from a study carried out by a leading international expert in these schemes.”

Another town councillor against the scheme, Alison Byard, said: “I’m very concerned about the waste of public money on an inappropriate scheme that has no public support and is strongly opposed by local blind and partially sighted groups. “There are also serious concerns from residents about public safety, especially for children.”