A FRUSTRATED Morpeth resident has hit out at the progress of town centre roadworks, but agencies insist they are going as quickly as they can.
A 10-week programme began in Bridge Street in January to accommodate water, gas and highways works, with a temporary one-way traffic system introduced.
Businesses say disruption from the work has cost them dearly, with custom plummeting, and two established shops have announced their closure after failing to cope with the decline.
Now former photography lecturer Nigel Shuttleworth, who lives in the town, has questioned the time-scale of the works, suggesting that if more workers were employed on site, working longer hours each day, the scheme could have been completed much sooner.
“I have walked up the high street and there are just two men on the site, nobody else. The work rate is a joke, it is disgraceful,” he said. “This could have been done in half the time and not caused all this disruption.
“I feel so sorry for the businesses, but this is also directly affecting me because I’m trying to sell my house. Nobody is going to come to Morpeth to look at a house with this going on and somebody from outside the area is going to take one look at the high street and push straight on to Alnwick.”
Mr Shuttleworth also complained about the operation of the one-way system, saying southbound traffic should have been diverted along Copper Chare to prevent delays at Manchester Street, and he said temporary pedestrian bridges should have been put in place to avoid traffic hold-ups at crossings.
“The council officers say they have spent so much time and effort planning this system, but it doesn’t work. They need to revisit their plans,” he said.
However, Northumberland County Council, which is co-ordinating the work with the various agencies, says the scheme is running to schedule and is set to be completed by the end of the month.
A council spokeswoman said: “The timeline and detail for projects such as this is set by the council in conjunction with utility partners like Northumbrian Water, who are carrying out the work.
“It is in no one’s interest for it to take longer than it needs to and we have made every effort to consult with the local community and to explain how we have planned this in the most effective way possible. There will be occasions when there seems to be less activity on the ground, such as this week when testing is taking place off-site, but this is necessary to complete the work in a satisfactory way.”
Northumbrian Water has completed the installation of a new main on the north side of Bridge Street and pressure tests carried out this week have been successful. Water quality tests have been carried out and, once safe results are received, work will start on transferring individual services over to the main. It will be done one property at a time to keep the footpath open.
Junction improvements, including kerb realignments, are being carried out around St George’s United Reformed Church as part of the Dransfield Properties’ works, which are also on schedule.
Meanwhile, the council is monitoring traffic flow and there is a team on stand-by from 7am to 7pm each day to react to any issues.
A spokeswoman for Northumbrian Water said work has taken place seven days a week since January 18, apart from one Sunday, but the hours are limited for safety issues and, due to the nature of the work, the numbers of staff on the ground will vary.
“How we manage the staff is dependent on what we are doing at any given time. It might be that during the course of a week there will be more people on site at one point than another,” she said.
“The new pipe has been laid on the north side of Bridge Street. When we install a new pipe we have to fill it up, do quality samples and test it before we can go ahead.
“While we are waiting for these results to come back there is not a lot we can do until we know that everything is okay. It isn’t the case of everybody on site all of the time. We know that we have had appropriate staff levels on site during the course of this work.
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“The workers are on site between 8am and 4pm because we have got to get a balance of getting the work done quickly and taking account of the health and safety of our workforce working on the roadside in daylight.
“As a responsible company, we want to get this work done as quickly as we possibly can. We understand it is inconvenient and it is causing disruption, but it is on schedule.”
A spokeswoman for Dransfield Properties said: “We couldn’t start on site until certain elements of the work had been completed by the other people working in the area, but they have hit their targets and they haven’t delayed us. We are a week ahead on our side of the works and will be finished by the end of March.”
Northern Gas Networks has completed its work.