Councillors refuse to put cash before public safety

ANGRY councillors have thrown out plans for roundabout advertising, saying they were being asked to put finance before public safety.

The proposals for 26 roundabouts, including two in Ponteland, were put forward by Northumberland County Council’s Sustainable Transport section as a money-making venture.

But every one of them has been rejected by the authority’s Planning and Environment Committee after a fierce response from councillors.

Member Jeff Gobin said: “We went through an exercise with highways officers about the clutter of signs and how it might distract drivers. I thought we were going along taking signs out, but now we are asking to put signs up — money-making signs.

“I’m being asked by officers to put finance before safety and the health of the public of Northumberland and the visitors to Northumberland and I’m not prepared to accept that. I want no signs. It is totally wrong.”

Initially the council planned to erect signs on 54 roundabouts, with up to four on each, to generate cash for highways work.

Sixteen sites were dismissed over highways or environment concerns, but a further 12 were approved by officers under delegated powers when no objections were received.

The remaining 26 applications for roundabouts in Ponteland, Cramlington, Blyth, Seaton Sluice, Alnwick, Hipsburn and Stocksfield went before the planning committee last week and were rejected by 10 to three.

Principal Planning Officer Jennifer Adamson said: “This is a continuation of the process that started about ten years ago, as approved by the then county council, that went on to promote signs on roundabouts, and a series of applications were submitted by district councils.

“The money generated from these advertisements, if they go ahead, would be allocated to the management and improvement of the county’s highways network.”

General objections to the scheme were lodged by the Northumberland and Newcastle Society, Ponteland Civic Society and Hexham Civic Society, while some town councils, local members and residents opposed specific applications.

In Ponteland, three signs were proposed for the Callerton roundabout in Callerton Lane and four for the Dobbies roundabout on the A696.

Each application attracted seven letters of objection.

Ponteland Town Council also opposed the plans on similar grounds.

Town and county councillor Eileen Armstrong said: “Both roundabouts are at the gateway to Ponteland town and create an impression of our area that Ponteland takes great pride in therefore the residents believe the addition of advertising signs is both unnecessary and will result in harming the visual amenity for residents and visitors to the area.

“Ponteland has for the first time won a Gold award in Northumbria In Bloom. Now the county council is considering letting the beautiful flower displays go in order to erect unnecessary signage that is not wanted. There is an abundance of other notices for adverts in our area without using open space.”

Fellow town councillor David Butler added that there were also serious concerns for road safety.

He said one resident in Cheviot View had encountered numerous near misses with cars coming off the Dobbies roundabout as he reversed off his drive and if signs were erected the situation could be even worse.

“If you look at this roundabout the dangers can clearly be seen – the tracks on the grass verge, numerous bits of cars littering the verge, even a stump of a broken lamppost that has not been repaired for months,” he said.

“This road is also used by army convoys going up to the ranges.

“Putting signs on these roundabouts is a potentially dangerous act.”

The signs proposed would be about 1.75m tall, with two poles fixed in the ground and an advertising panel measuring 580mm by 1,400mm, set 600mm above the ground.

Planning officers told the committee that all 26 roundabouts had been assessed and the signs would not look like clutter, would not cause visual harm and would not be a distraction.

But county councillors were not convinced.

Coun Ian Swithenbank said: “This is not just the usual street furniture, but proposed signs that are designed to attract the attention of the driver.

“To go ahead with this, I think this council is making a fool of itself and it will make no difference in the great scheme of things for the money generated.

“We have all seen slippy roads with a bit of ice and we have all seen where some poor devil has gone over the kerb and across the grass, and if there is nothing there they go back onto the road. They might be shaken up, but that is it. How would it be if they skid and overshoot the junction and hit a sign? Something not quite the same happened to me when I was young and I have got an artificial leg to prove it. What on earth are we doing? How can this council talk about road safety when it comes to proposals like this?”

Coun Wayne Daley added: “Overall, in terms of road safety I think this is a hazard. I’m not prepared to agree to this thing and support it because I don’t want to be the one responsible for sending a child to hospital, or God forbid, sending a child to a funeral parlour.”

Some members spoke in support.

Coun Ian Hutchinson said: “If you go to Ponteland there are signs for the greenbelt in everybody’s gardens and they stand out. If anything is a distraction they are. I’m not saying people are wrong putting them out, but they are more of a distraction than any of the signs on a roundabout.”