Councillors back shopping campaign

TOWN councillors are joining the campaign to urge residents and visitors to keep shopping in Morpeth.

At a meeting of the full council members firmly backed the message that Morpeth is open for business as normal while a one-way system is in place in the town centre.

Coun Mark Horton said: “It seems to me that we should strongly push the message that Morpeth is still open for business.

“We need to do all we can to let people know the congestion is not as bad as people feared and they can still have a good day out in the town centre.

“I also think we should write to the works contractors and ask them not to bring in excavators at peak times, as well as if it would be possible to have more breaks between the barriers in Bridge Street so people don’t have to walk a long way to cross the road.”

Businesses are putting the word out through campaigns, advertising and events that there are still plenty of reasons to shop in Morpeth, and the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade has called for free parking during the works.

The county council has so far decided not to introduce the measure.

Some town councillors said any extra help for struggling businesses can only be considered after looking at how many motorists are using the car parks compared to the same period in previous years.

Coun David Parker said: “I support what councillor Horton is saying about this, we all need to put out a positive message about the town centre during these works.

“The call by traders for free parking is complicated because it would mean more cars coming into Morpeth, which could make the congestion worse.

“I’m not against what they are proposing if there’s some substance to it so the county council needs to examine the statistics for car park usage over the last few weeks to find out what space there is, if any, for the extra vehicles.”

The one-way system was imposed in mid-January to accommodate water and gas works, as well as cabling work for a new set of traffic lights at Telford Bridge. The work will take up to ten weeks to complete.

There was a difficult first day, but Northumberland County Council staff were monitoring the jams and changes were made the following day to help the traffic flow.

However, both national and independent businesses have reported a significant fall in custom.

Town and county councillor Andrew Tebbutt said: “The council officers and staff have been on the ball from the start and their amendments to the one-way system have allowed the traffic to run smoothly so hopefully no-one will be put off from coming into the town centre.

“The first Tuesday was quiet, but so was Cramlington and Newcastle on that day and this time of year is generally not that busy. Therefore, to get some hardship support, businesses need to have firm evidence that their takings are much lower than during the same period in the last few years.”

Coun Dave Herne asked if it was worth looking at a park and ride scheme from County Hall at weekends.

But Coun Tebbutt said even though the scheme had its merits, it lost money so there would be a reluctance to bring it back.

The council’s Planning and Transport Committee last week decided to raise the issue again with the county council, and vowed to keep a close watch on the situation, with regular updates.

They will also seek support for Morpeth when the roadworks are complete.