Anger as residents point the finger over traffic lights

MORE calls have come for the removal of unpopular Morpeth traffic lights as residents accuse councillors of not listening to their concerns.

A full house crowded into Morpeth Town Hall last Thursday for a second public meeting about the Telford Bridge signals.

And there was anger that outcry about the lights had failed to persuade Northumberland County Council to remove them.

Resident James Mee said: “We have had no communication, no proper representation and no consultation with the people of this community. That is the most deplorable thing the county council has done so far. We have been excluded and totally ignored and that is not right and not fair.”

The lights were installed in a deal between Dransfield Properties and Northumberland County Council as part of the application for a new supermarket off Dark Lane.

Experts agreed that signals were needed to replace the roundabout to be able to cope with the expected increase in traffic from the development.

But there has been massive local objection to the scheme, with frequent calls to return to the former system.

Morpeth newsagent Brian Penfold said: “The people of Morpeth for some time now have felt that they really have not got a voice, they say they are not being listened to.

“When I came to the last meeting I was very impressed with the comments from the floor — constructive, well thought out, fantastic ideas, but I was disgusted with the attitude of the people at the top table. You seemed very disrespectful, arrogant and dismissive.

“I have lived here all my life, I love this town, but it is not vibrant at the moment. There is a lot of ill-feeling around. The road works, the traffic lights, we know they are wrong. The next one is the traffic wardens.

“It is strangling this town and the ill-feeling is coming from all over the town, from people you would not expect it to.”

At a public meeting in May, councillors said the lights should be given more time to settle in, but they would support their removal if the system was not working and public opposition remained.

However, last week a council information leaflet stated that there are no immediate plans to take out the lights.

Resident Bob Robertson said: “I am left feeling what value public opinion actually has because you are making the decisions for us. You should be making the decisions taking account of our opinions.

“There has not been such a strong reaction to any other thing as far as I can remember. Prior to the lights we all negotiated the town and all handled the system. Nobody complained, everybody put up with it. We live here and know how it works. Currently we have got a set of lights and everybody hates them, but we are actually going to have to love them because it seems they are here to stay.”

Morpeth Conservatives Deputy Chairman David Bawn said: “At the last meeting the views of the meeting were very clear and the people at the front intended to go away and look at the options, but what options were actually discussed? Was the option to remove the lights considered? Was it looked at, or was it never on the table?

“A lot of people want these lights taken out. Is that ever going to happen or are we wasting our time?”

Coun David Towns, who reported delays at the lights of 17 minutes to reach the meeting, said: “We have had two meetings like this, we have a massive petition, there are articles in the Press and there is a Facebook page.

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What more can we do to convince the council that something needs to change here?

“We have had a lot of reasonable and sensible comments. We have had real data coming from the people who use that junction every single day. We have evidence from the chamber of trade who are telling you the town is dying. Your town is dying on its feet because of the cumulative variety of things, and the straw that broke the camel’s back is the lights.”

Coun Andrew Tebbutt said no instant decisions will be made on the future of the lights.

He said work is ongoing to assess the system and improve it, but any changes must comply with the law and if the lights are removed without evidence to do so it could leave the council open to a corporate manslaughter charge.

He said: “Whatever we do, we want Morpeth to succeed.

“If we take the lights out and reinstate the roundabout I can bet any money you like that we will get complaints from people about the fact that the roundabout has been put back. In the ten years that I have represented Kirkhill, I have had more complaints about the roundabout than I have about the lights.”

He added: “What we will do is have a conversation with fellow county councillors and officers and make sure that we come back to people with where we stand. We are listening.”

Coun David Moore said: “We are a vibrant town because we have accepted change. We have got the arcade, which is attracting people in, and if we didn’t accept that change the town wouldn’t be as vibrant as it is.

“We need to be able to look forward to some change otherwise the town will stagnate and potentially go backwards.”

And Coun David Woodard said: “With the introduction of the traffic lights I believe that there has been a reduction in queuing and travelling times at peak times. I think there are issues that have got to be addressed in the right way, which Dransfield and the highways officers are doing.”

However, Coun Ian Lindley said: “This is not the party line, but I don’t like the traffic lights at all.

“My honest experience of this, which is not easy for me to say because I’m part of the administration that put them in and I have collective responsibility, is that it is inadequate and it does seem to be taking longer than the roundabout. I really wish it wasn’t like that, but it is.

“I have never had so many complaints from so many sensible people. People are stopping me all over the place and saying this is no good. That includes my family, and they have no axe to grind.”

Coun Tebbutt said there is no party line and the lights were agreed as part of the supermarket planning application approved by the cross-party North Area Planning Committee.