TRADERS have repeated calls for free parking as roadworks misery starts to bite.
Fears of major disruption from utility and highways works came to fruition in Morpeth on Monday as a one-way traffic system was introduced through the town centre.
Rush-hour commuters faced delays of up to an hour to reach the centre from the south of the town, with a broken down lorry on the A192 near Morpeth Railway Station adding to the problems, while those travelling from the north were queuing for about 20 minutes.
Taxi driver David Pearson said: “It was horrendous.
“I started at 7.30am and it was all right then, but by 8am it was getting really bad. You couldn’t move, and the fact that a wagon broke down under the bridge made it even worse.
“One of my friends left Stobhill at 8.30am and didn’t get into the town until 9.25am.
“I can understand the one-way system for the roadworks, but there’s absolutely no reason for the Morrisons road to be one-way. There was an old man waiting for his wife from Lidl and he didn’t know how he could get there, and there was nobody at all at the Total petrol station.”
Commuter David Richards said that it was not necessary to force traffic to go left only at Telford Bridge and allowing vehicles to turn right as well would help to cut down the queue times.
“It was the worst congestion I have seen in Morpeth since I moved here 27 years ago,” he added.
“And I don’t know why there are temporary traffic lights at the junction of Newgate Street and Manchester Street. In these types of situations, temporary mini-roundabouts work much better.
“If this is not sorted out, there will be a lot of people getting angry in their cars and they could make some rash decisions.”
Bus operator Arriva North East confirmed that it was experiencing delays to services.
However, Northumberland County Council staff were monitoring the jams throughout the day and by Tuesday several changes had been made to try to help the traffic flow.
A new merging turn has been introduced at the Telford Bridge junction with Bridge Street, traffic lights at Newgate Street and Manchester Street are being operated manually at peak times and they are on green for longer.
Council staff were supervising children crossing Manchester Street until a new set of pedestrian lights could be installed and two extra signs were erected to inform people of the one-way system.
The amendments made a notable difference to commuters’ journey times as delays were shortened.
But by Tuesday lunchtime a new problem had emerged for Morpeth’s business community as shoppers stayed away.
The Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade has received several reports from members about the lack of footfall and the impact on trade, prompting its leadership to reiterate its request for parking charges to be dropped to offer shoppers an incentive to come into the town.
Chairman John Beynon said: “The traffic is flowing now, but a lot of people are avoiding the town and that is the problem.
“We tried to tell the councillors that this would happen and we needed some incentive for people to come to Morpeth because these will be hard weeks. That is why we asked for free parking. Even if it was just for so many days a week it would make a difference.
“The footfall on Tuesday was right down. It was very quiet.
“If this had happened in Ashington or Bedlington, I’m sure their councillors would have been shouting up for the area. We wrote to our councillors and were told that officers would be monitoring the situation, but that is no good, the damage has been done.”
Sanderson Arcade operator Dransfield Properties has backed the chamber’s proposal.
Spokeswoman Amanda Holmes said: “We would certainly like to see free parking introduced over the next few weeks in Morpeth while the diversions in the town are ongoing.
“The town is still very much open and whilst the diversions are clearly necessary for a number of works ongoing at the moment, we would support any initiative which encourages people to come into town.”
County Executive Member for Infrastructure and Environment Isabel Hunter said: “The traffic is now flowing better through the town, particularly at off-peak times.
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We put in some improvements to help traffic flow on the second day and we will continue to monitor the traffic situation closely.
“We would welcome any ideas and suggestions on how we can help to keep the traffic moving well during the roadworks period.
“If individual businesses feel they need help then they are welcome to contact the council for advice as we can provide a range of support services or signpost businesses to organisations for advice.”
She added: “I understand the diversion and lane closures are frustrating for motorists, but I would ask them to take care and please be patient while the roadworks are carried out. If anyone has any suggestions on how we can make the diversions work better they are welcome to get in touch.”
The one-way system will operate for up to ten weeks to accommodate water and gas works, as well as cabling work for a new set of traffic lights at Telford Bridge.
The system includes Bridge Street, Newgate Street, Manchester Street, Wellway, Stanley Terrace and Damside.