EMOTIONS ran high at a packed public meeting as around 200 people turned out to voice their anger at new Morpeth traffic lights.
There was standing room only at Morpeth Town Hall last Thursday as concerned residents and traders braved the torrential rain to have their say about the signals at Telford Bridge.
The meeting had barely got under way when there were calls from one resident for a vote on whether the lights should be removed and the former mini-roundabout reinstated. The result was virtually unanimous and little changed when a show of hands was called again at the end of the debate.
Many took the opportunity to air their frustrations about the lights and there was fierce disagreement to council reports that congestion was improving.
Resident Bob Robertson said: “We are being told live with it, get used to it and they will get better. Traffic lights should be understandable. I would defy anybody coming into the town for the first time to comprehend what they are supposed to do at those lights.
“Take out the lights, re-phase the pedestrian lights and put the roundabout back.”
He also made reference to a Facebook campaign against the signals, which has attracted more than 1,600 members.
“If we are wrong, 1,600 people on a website and all the people in this room, you can blow us a raspberry and we will accept it. The majority of people who live and drive through Morpeth don’t want it. We don’t want to live with it and it is up to you as our representatives to do something about it,” he said.
Another resident added: “Since the traffic lights were there we have had a queue through Castle Square. The odd exception is after midnight when I had to wait at a red light when there was no other traffic around.”
And another said it was the worst system she has seen.
“I travelled to over 35 countries last year and that is the worst set of traffic lights I have seen. I have seen people driving through a river today to avoid these traffic lights. There needs to be something done about it straight away. It is an absolute joke,” she said.
A Morpeth businessman said it had taken him 35 minutes to travel from Coopies Lane to his shop in the town centre that morning, a journey that would previously take five minutes.
But Northumberland County Council Network Manager Dick Phillips said the delay was due to the rain.
“This morning was unusual. It was raining,” he said.
“The entire northern region was blocked up with cars because everybody decided it was raining and to jump in their cars. I have been working in Morpeth for 25 years now and I know what happens on a rainy day or a snowy morning and that is exactly what happened this morning.
“The records we have built up over the past couple of weeks shows that the whole journey from the Stobhill roundabout, when we can get a journey time, is 12 minutes.”
Alan Smith, of Chantry Picture Framing, agreed that the peak-time queues were no worse than previously.
“I travel into Morpeth from Stobhill every day and the lines are always there when the schools are in. If the schools are on holiday you can travel straight into Morpeth. It is no different now,” he said.
But Trevor Watson, of Chantry Place, said he had been monitoring the traffic and the roundabout was better, while there is still confusion over the left filter lane onto the bridge.
“I have lived here for 30 years and now I find I live next door to a car park. I look at Telford Bridge and the traffic doesn’t move,” he said.
“Every now and then I hear beep, beep, and that is somebody who can’t read the Give Way sign and is waiting for the traffic lights to turn green. People are supposed to read the Highway Code, but you can’t cater for everybody. How about a sign saying ‘filter left’?”
Another person highlighted problems with the right turn onto the bridge.
“Several times I have come across from a green light and traffic turning right has nearly come into the side of me. For all the years that the roundabout was there I never had that trouble. Can you do something about that in the short term? If you are not going to change the lights, at least do that,” he said.
Highways expert Charlotte Peacock, who was involved in the roundabout design at Moor Farm, said that consultation should have been carried out, adding that there was no need for the lights.
She said: “Traffic lights are needed to balance an unbalanced junction. That is not currently the case here.”
But county highways officials said that flows on one arm of the roundabout were 50 percent more than the other two.
Head of Sustainable Transport Mike Scott said: “The idea that there is a balanced traffic flow is unfortunately not correct.”
The meeting heard that the lights were introduced to accommodate the expected extra traffic from the Low Stanners supermarket development by Dransfield Properties.
But one resident questioned where the additional customers would come from and others asked how the supermarket was given planning permission if the roundabout was already over capacity.
Peter Allan, who has lived in Morpeth for 20 years, said: “That junction is always going to be a problem. You have talked about Dransfield and the fact that it has to manage the increased traffic flow. Are you being hard enough on Dransfield? Could there not be a more radical solution, possibly a bridge at the other side of the road? It might be a better solution.”
Another resident said the council should have waited for the impact of the bypass to be seen before introducing the lights.
Several people raised concerns that back roads in the town are now being used as a rat-run to avoid the lights.
One said: “Have you considered the impact of traffic on other parts of the town? We have talked about the rat-run. This morning there was a queue of traffic trying to turn right at St Mary’s Church, blocking the traffic trying to leave Morpeth to go to Newcastle. This never happened before. There were queues of cars going round to the community centre, I have never seen traffic like that there before.”
Another suggested that lights should be put on the Mafeking Park roundabout instead.
And one man said: “All the people that are here tonight are against the traffic lights. We all want to change back to the roundabout. If this was France or Germany it would get done. If all these people here decided not to pay their council tax you would have to do something about it then.”
Businessman Charles Sellers suggested covering the lights for periods and switching them off to enable a comparison to be made on traffic flows.
He said: “To take the traffic lights out at this moment in time is not going to be done, but take the lights out of action and put the covers over them and look at the traffic when the lights are on and when the lights are off. That would be a solution to determine whether the lights are going to be effective or not. It is not going to resolve the idea of putting the roundabout back, but it will give the townsfolk an idea of whether they work.”