THE fiasco over unwelcome Morpeth traffic lights has cost almost £300,000, campaigners say.
Northumberland County Council has confirmed that taxpayers have forked out £44,000 on consultants, traffic surveys and the removal of the signals at Telford Bridge.
But the figure does not include officers’ time on the matter, or the huge installation costs borne by developer Dransfield Properties.
The costs have come to light after Morpeth North member David Bawn submitted a formal question to a full council meeting last week, saying it was important for the authority to take stock of the situation to prevent a repetition.
After the meeting, he said: “I am shocked the costs were this high. This has been an absolute debacle from start to finish.
“The lights were installed by Dransfield as part of the application for the new supermarket and paid for by the developer, however it is the local taxpayer that has been left carrying the can.
“The figures released also do not include the time of council officers, who could have been employed more gainfully on other projects so the true total costs remain unknown, but I suspect they will be considerably higher.”
The lights were installed at the busy gateway junction 18 months ago in an effort to ease anticipated congestion arising from the opening of the Morrisons’ store off Dark Lane.
However, they immediately sparked protests from residents, who said they made the junction dangerous, increased congestion and were unsightly.
The signals have now been removed for a six-month roundabout trial.
The Lights Out group, which campaigned to have the signals removed, says that it cost around £250,000 to install the lights and that while this was paid for by Dransfield Properties, the money could have been better spent elsewhere in the community.
Group founder David Clark said: “We now know the taxpayer has paid £44,000 and most of this has been on a report to tell us what we already knew – the lights didn’t work.
“It cost £250,000 to put the lights in and while the council didn’t pay for them it is still £250,000 wasted. That could have been spent on something else.
“We’re looking at a total of £294,000 of wasted money.”
Mr Clark said drivers will also have had increased fuel costs from waiting in traffic jams at the lights, council officers’ time on the issue will have been substantial, and businesses will have lost money from customers staying away from the town because of the congestion caused.
“We’re talking about a minimum cost of £294,000 here because that is only the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
Council Policy Board Member for Streetcare and Environment Ian Swithenbank has said it is unlikely that the lights will return at the end of the roundabout trial.
“I think it was fairly obvious to everyone that there was a problem,” he said.
“At the moment I saw the lights I said to the council, ‘I’m no highways expert, but they couldn’t work and wouldn’t work’. I was behind an HGV trying to turn right and the traffic was at a standstill for a number of minutes.
“While the report says the roundabout is a trial period, I find it difficult to think of any circumstances that would justify re-activating the lights. I’m simply the portfolio holder, but I would be extremely surprised if it was thought necessary to bring these lights back into operation.”