Shops say council’s ‘inaction’ has made their losses worse

Brought to you by the Morpeth Herald.
Brought to you by the Morpeth Herald.

Angry business owners claim their takings have suffered more than they should have done because of ‘broken promises’ over works currently taking place in Morpeth.

Last month, Northumberland County Council workers started the project that involves relaying or replacing various paving stones on both sides of Newgate Street – extending from the Market Place to the junction with Manchester Street.

A one-way system is in place for traffic and on Monday, it was switched so vehicles could not go northbound as works moved to the other side of the street.

The Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade had raised concerns that workers operated in 150-yard segments rather than 50-yards in the first few weeks and at a meeting on Monday, other issues were brought up.

These included that the council should have done much more to promote the message the Newgate Street was still open for business ‘across all media’ and clearer signage in the middle of the street advising that people could still access shops by the front door.

Committee member John Beynon added: “There haven’t been enough workers at the site. If it was a private company project, it would be nearly finished now.”

Wendy Smith, owner of Cafe des Amis in Newgate Street, surveyed business in the street and year-on-year takings over the last month have fallen between 25 and 50 per cent.

She said: “We’ve been let down by the council for not doing the works how they said they would and customers have told us they have avoided coming along Newgate Street or into Morpeth at all.

“People’s shopping habits can quickly change and it will be difficult to get the lost customers back.”

A county council spokesman said: “There were some initial issues with the change to the one-way system this week, but these were rectified as quickly as possible.

“To speed up the work teams are working overtime and on Saturdays, while extra signage has been put out promoting Morpeth so visitors are aware that the town and its shops are open for business.

“With the extra resources, we are working to see if the works can be completed ahead of schedule.”

He added: “Throughout the project, we have sought to keep both Morpeth Town Council and Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade involved with and informed of our work, and worked to minimise disruption to traders and shoppers.”

Newgate Street is in the ward of county councillor David Bawn.

He said: “I attended the Chamber of Trade meeting to hear the concerns of traders on Newgate Street and the town more widely regarding the disruption that the works to the Newgate Street pavements have caused.

“Although it is great that these long needed works are being undertaken, the disruption is proving a real problem to footfall in the town and Newgate Street in particular.

“I am taking the concerns of the traders back to officers and seeing what solutions can be found to alleviate the difficulty. Particularly in communication, as the change to the one-way system on Monday seemed to come as a surprise to everyone and caused chaos.”