A REVIEW of the controversial Morpeth traffic lights will take place in a public meeting next week.
About 200 residents and business owners turned out to a previous meeting in May to voice their anger and frustration about the signals at Telford Bridge, which were installed in April to replace a mini-roundabout.
The lights were erected to accommodate an expected increase in traffic when a new supermarket opens in Dark Lane.
But complaints were raised that they have increased congestion, confusion and pollution, the junction is too tight and pedestrians are at risk from vehicles mounting the kerbs and problems with crossings.
Northumberland County Council pledged to follow up the meeting and report back with any data it has collected about the lights.
And the update will be given at Morpeth Town Hall next Thursday.
Council Executive Member for Infrastructure and Environment Simon Reed said: “Since the installation of the lights in April as part of a scheme to mitigate increased traffic due to the new supermarket, a number of issues regarding traffic flows have been raised with us.
“We have taken on board those comments and improvements have already been made, not only to the layout of the junction and signage, but also to the timings of the lights at the junction.
“We also agreed that we would collate further evidence of traffic flow and delay, monitor how the junction was working and discuss issues with stakeholders, and then feedback on progress to a public meeting in July.
“I really do hope that people will come to listen to the findings and be ready to discuss any further issues or concerns in a constructive way so that we can minimise traffic queues in and around Morpeth for the benefit of visitors and residents alike.”
Council officers are expected to present evidence of typical waiting times at peak and off-peak times for the lights, as well as an assessment of their overall impact.
However, county councillor David Towns, who has set up an online petition calling for the lights to be removed, is concerned that public feeling will still not be taken into account.
He said: “The council’s Lib Dem administration was forced into holding this meeting because of the reaction to the first public meeting, organised by David Bawn of Morpeth Conservatives.
“Coun Reed has deftly avoided saying anything about the future of these controversial lights, confirming only that the council will ‘feedback on progress’. This sounds to me like the council is simply going to lecture the public about how they are wrong and the council is right, using clever graphs to illustrate a point that anyone who regularly drives through these lights knows to be incorrect.
“People don’t want to be patronised by their local councillors, they want them to represent their views, and of those with a view the vast majority say that these lights are wrong for them, wrong for that junction and wrong for Morpeth. When will the council listen?”
As the Herald went to press yesterday, councillors Glen Sanderson and Richard Dodd were due to raise questions about the lights at a full council meeting at County Hall.
Coun Sanderson was planning to ask what other options had been considered for the junction, who made the decision to install the lights, why were opposition councillors not consulted and who decided not to consult the public about them? Coun Dodd intended to ask if a contingency plan was in place for the failure of the system, how much the lights cost and whether the traffic flow approaching the bridge and using alternative routes was being monitored.
Coun Sanderson said: “I’m amazed by how angry and upset people that live and work and travel through Morpeth still are. The system that everyone had got used to over the years, flawed though it may have been, was still a system that they favoured over the current initiative and they are so angry that they weren’t asked for their opinions. I think the fact that local people weren’t asked for their views is something that rankles.
“By postponing the meeting for a couple of months following the original one, members of the administration probably thought that this would go away and people would get used to the traffic lights, but serious questions still remain and hopefully they will be answered at the public meeting.”
Meanwhile, Morpeth Town Council will wait to hear the evidence from the county council before taking a position on the issue.
But members did warn that if questions about safety concerns are not addressed satisfactorily, it may decide to call for their removal.
Coun Les Cassie said: “If the information says the lights have improved traffic levels than when the roundabout was in place, it would be perverse to say they should be taken out on those grounds.
“However, if the council is unable to give full answers about issues of safety that are concerning residents, then we can look at taking a position against them.”
Coun Nic Best added that some of those who said they are against the lights accepted waiting in traffic jams during rush hour times, but were annoyed by having to wait much longer than expected at non-peak times.
The authority resolved to make a decision at its next full council meeting later this month.
Almost 1,000 people signed a petition at Morpeth Fair Day calling for the traffic lights to be taken out and the roundabout reinstated, while an online version on the council’s website has so far attracted 212 names.
Local businesses have also been displaying it in shops.
One resident involved in distributing the petition, who does not wish to be named, said: “People have taken time out to fill this in and I would like to thank the businesses for their support. Beautiful responses are coming back.
“There is concern about the lights and parking charges from the business people themselves.
“This is not political. It is the ordinary, common man asking the council if it will take these lights away. This is coming from the community and they are the people the council is responsible to.”
The meeting will be held at Morpeth Town Hall on Thursday, July 12, at 6.30pm.