Traffic lights protesters march on County Hall

Morpeth Lights Out protest march to County Hall.
Morpeth Lights Out protest march to County Hall.
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TRAFFIC light fury was vented at the doors of County Hall as hundreds turned out for a protest march.

Estimates suggest that up to 500 people set off from Morpeth Market Place on Friday to show their anger and concerns about the removal of the Telford Bridge roundabout and its replacement with traffic lights.

The signals were installed ahead of the opening of a new supermarket off Dark Lane after Northumberland County Council decided they would be the best way of dealing with the anticipated increase in traffic.

But the system has met with outrage from locals, who say it is dangerous, confusing, unsightly and has only increased congestion.

The protest march, which headed from the town centre to the council’s headquarters in Loansdean, was organised by the Lights Out campaign after a 2,500 name petition, two public meetings and a Facebook page failed to bring about the lights’ removal.

Led by Larry the Lights Out Lion, the march was accompanied by cheers, whistles and bells, while some passing vehicles sounded their horns in support.

Some marchers dropped out along the route, but a determined band carried on to County Hall, where Lights Out Chairman handed over a letter calling for the signals to be taken out and a roundabout re-installed.

He said: “I’m flabbergasted by the support for the campaign that has been shown — it is beyond all expectations.

“When I was asked how many people were expected at the march I said it could be 20 or 200, it didn’t matter because the point was we were keeping up the campaign, but today at some counts we have had more than 500 people marching.

“It just goes to show that people from Morpeth and around Morpeth are willing to come out and show their support for the campaign.”

James Mee, who organised the protest, said: “This is an expression of the town’s desire to change. The march belongs to the people, it doesn’t belong to any political party, and local businesses too have been supportive. I would say about 98 percent support the traffic lights’ removal, there has been a fantastic response from the public.”

David Clark, also known as Larry the Lion, urged the council to listen to people’s concerns.

“I would have been pleased if 50 people had come along and would have thought that was a good show, but it has been an amazing turn-out. I think the people have spoken,” he said.

“I urge the council to engage with people, to listen to what they have to say. Morpeth is full of intelligent people and we are the experts on our community. We can help in the process.

“This march has never been about rabble-rousing, it is about community. I have no political affiliations whatsoever, I’m here as a passionate resident of Morpeth, like everyone else. We want to play a part in the local democratic process, it’s as simple as that.”

The Herald reported last week that the county council has ordered a review of Morpeth’s entire road network and will employ an independent expert from outside the county to look at the options.

Consultation with the public is expected to begin later this month.

Head of Sustainable Transport Mike Scott said: “We have already listened and will continue to listen and continue to work with people in the town to make the traffic network the best it can be.

“At the moment all the evidence we have from the developer is that the lights are the best way of addressing safety and congestion in the town, but we are completely open to other alternatives that might do it even better. We are undertaking a piece of work to establish what those alternatives might be.”

He added: “We are not taking the lights out at this stage. We need to understand what the best alternative to the traffic lights will be. At the moment I don’t think we are quite there.”

Protesters had many different reasons for their opposition to the Telford Bridge lights. The following shows some of their views.

The businesses

Gwen Hezmalhalch, Perfect Perfumes: “I have closed my shop to be at the march because the traffic lights are affecting my business. Trade is over 50 percent down since the lights came in. People are saying they hardly come to Morpeth any more because of the lights and the parking problems, which isn’t helped by the work for the supermarket taking 40 spaces out. I think the lights are the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Katie Broadhead, Phoenix Barbers: “We have closed for the march because these lights are affecting our clients. I have been trading for 20 years in Morpeth and I haven’t seen anything like it. The lights are really putting people off coming to Morpeth, including local people who just try to avoid them. Overall, it is killing the town.”

Michelle Craig, Snows: “A lot of my customers are saying they rarely come to Morpeth now because of the lights. It is taking them a lot longer to get in. Morpeth is really struggling at the moment and one of the big reasons is the lights. We are in difficult times anyway, but this doesn’t help. We need support from the council, not this.”

Ann Walker: “I own property where the lights are and I have just re-assigned the lease. I think the tenant must be absolutely furious. The bollards are disgusting, the lights aren’t working and this is a highly sensitive area in the town.”

The residents

Rosie Donaldson: “I’m just fed up with the constant traffic jams in Morpeth. The traffic congestion has deteriorated rapidly since they removed the roundabout. Mini roundabouts are the best way of handling traffic through town centres, there is no doubt about it.”

Adrian Copley: “I’m annoyed about the congestion caused for motorists and pedestrians. There are three sets of lights within 40 metres and the lights’ phasing isn’t correct. I think the concrete barriers are obtrusive and the lights are a potential danger to pedestrians and buildings. They are an eyesore and instead of slowing traffic down, you see cars racing along and mounting the path just to beat the lights. It is one of the most ridiculous decisions ever made by the authorities in Morpeth.”

Tom Liddell: “I think the concrete barriers are concrete evidence that they have got it wrong.”

George Riddell: “I think the lights have been put in with inadequate consultation and I think they are dangerous. They have had to put up huge concrete barriers to stop people being swept off the pavement by lorries because articulated vehicles have to mount the kerb to get round. Now they can’t get round without causing severe disruption. It is frustrating when you’re sitting at the traffic lights waiting and nothing is happening, and it is confusing, particularly for visitors.”

Pam Rudram: “The lights are appalling. They have caused more problems than they have resolved. I have seen more aggression as people are getting frustrated because they don’t know what they are meant to be doing at the lights. They are even putting people off coming to Morpeth. I’m pleasantly surprised by the number of people on the march and I’m pleased that the people of Morpeth are coming together like this. I think it is good for the community.”

Robert Hutchinson: “I have seen the problems these lights have caused in the town centre. I have noticed a big difference in waiting times and it is a confusing junction, nobody knows who has got right of way. It also looks pretty awful, it is not in keeping with the rest of the town. It is the first time I have done anything like this. I’ve come off a 12-hour night shift and come straight here because I have such strong feelings about it.”

Elizabeth Dixon: “The lights are intrusive and the big barriers have made a total mess. The queues are ridiculous. It was always bad first thing in the morning when the schools are open, but now it doesn’t matter what time you go along, you can never go straight through.”

Joanne Dodd: “I live in Middle Greens and it is such a problem trying to get out now. A lot of the time we have to go up to the Mafeking Park roundabout to come back down. We never had that problem with the roundabout. People have queued so long to get to the lights that they won’t let us out.”

John Scott: “The traffic doesn’t flow now, it is a lot worse since the traffic lights were put in. They say this is to handle the extra traffic when the new supermarket opens, but if it is this bad with a smaller amount of traffic now it is going to be even worse when there is more traffic.”

Pam Cone: “We feel very strongly about the fact that these lights were put in and they are causing absolute chaos. A lot of people don’t shop in Morpeth now because it is taking so long for them to get in. The lights are also very dangerous and the fact that concrete barriers have been put in shows they are not fit and big vehicles can’t get round.”

Sarah Howells: “From a pedestrian point of view the situation could be really dangerous. The pedestrian lights take ages to turn to green, which makes people try to cross the road in the middle of the traffic. I have encountered problems waiting by St George’s Church and I also don’t like the appearance of the lights. This is the first time I have been on a march, which shows how strongly I feel.”

Colin McMillan: “We have lived in Morpeth many years and the traffic has never been as bad as this. If you come at non-peak times it is just as bad, you have to queue even at night. We really dislike the concrete bollards, they are an eyesore. We just hope the council is listening to us.”

Robin Cooper: “They widened the road outside St George’s Church. As a member, I was involved in the negotiations for that and the council said nothing about traffic lights. Widening the road would increase traffic flow, but putting traffic lights in completely neutralises it and they have created a more dangerous situation. There are cars mounting the pavement to turn left because they get stuck behind cars going straight on. That was never a problem with the roundabout. If we go back to a roundabout the traffic will flow better.”

Tony Medd: “I support the campaign. The system is a bad design and it is an accident waiting to happen.”

Peter Ingram: “I was sitting at the lights to go along Bridge Street and every car turned left. If the lights weren’t there you could do that without waiting, but now if the lights are red you have to wait. How can a group of people write such an excellent report on the bypass plans and then be so stupid about the lights? I have never taken part in any protest march before and I have lived in Morpeth since 1974.”

Su Inkaewchua: “I don’t like the traffic lights. I have been here for nine years and we have never had traffic congestion before like there is now. You can see traffic queuing all through the town.”

Peter Anderson: “I dislike the lights and I think they are dangerous. They also cause congestion, sometimes it is quicker walking from the Sun Inn than driving. I never had any trouble before with the roundabout.”

Michelle Stewart: “I just hate the lights. Last week I was stuck at them at two o’clock in the morning when there was nothing else on the road, not a car in sight.”

Michael Elder: “I’m sick of getting held up at the junction. You can be waiting at the lights and nothing is coming, but you have to sit there and wait. It happens all the time. I had no problems with the roundabout, it worked great.”

Sheila Anderson: “When you’re waiting to cross the road at the church you have to keep well back because cars haven’t got room to get past to turn left if more than two cars are waiting to go straight on so they have to go up on the path. It’s dangerous.”