Traffic lights protesters should ‘get a life’ says councillor

TRAFFIC light protesters in Morpeth “should get a life and stop looking for any old reason to complain”, a councillor has said.

Pegswood member David Woodard also labelled people who complain about the Telford Bridge lights “grumpies” and said they were “self-seeking future election candidates”.

The controversial comments were made in an e-mail to senior officers at Northumberland County Council.

They were revealed following a Freedom of Information request from anti-lights campaigner and Chairman of Morpeth and Wansbeck Conservative Association David Bawn, who asked the council for all correspondence relating to the lights and the authority’s response to the public reaction.

Almost all of the e-mails supplied have had the names of the senders or recipients removed, but there is one from May 1, signed Northumberland County Councillor for Pegswood (includes Morpeth Middle Greens and Longhirst Parish).

The message was sent to the council’s Director of Local Services Caroline Bruce and copied to Head of Sustainable Transport Mike Scott.

In it Coun Woodard states: “The recent complaints in the local press are manufactured by grumpies and self-seeking future election candidates.

“They should get a life and stop looking for any old reason to complain and distort.”

He goes on to say that he believed more traffic was coming into the town than in the previous year and that queues either side of the Telford Bridge were substantially shorter than before the lights were installed.

When contacted by the Herald yesterday Coun Woodard declined to comment on the e-mail.

Mr Bawn said: “We need to understand how serious this is. A Lib Dem councillor has been caught out dismissing the valid concerns of local people in the most insulting terms.

“It is astonishing that someone in public office holds such a low opinion of local people.”

He added: “More than 200 people attended the meeting organised by the Conservatives and voted unanimously against the lights. Since then more than 500 people have marched through Morpeth to demand that the lights be removed and I have submitted a petition against the lights on behalf of more than 2,000 residents.

“Local people must be listened to.”

The e-mails also reveal that Ms Bruce thought some consultants’ modelling for the lights was “absolute rubbish” and she would order them to be removed if evidence backed it up.

On May 1 she wrote: “For the absolute avoidance of doubt, if the evidence demonstrates a need I will instruct for the roundabout to be reinstated at the developer’s costs and will have no hesitation in doing so. But we are not at that position.”

Other unattributed e-mails refer to the difficulty in separating fact from “perception and hysteria” about the signals, reference to “hijacking” one of the meetings about the lights “to be a proper public meeting”, and the need for a meeting chairman “who will ‘protect’ officers from inappropriate activity”.

There is another unnamed message referring to a letter to a newspaper, which states: “This is probably just another example of a Morpethian demonstrating an incurable resistance to change and an uncontrollable desire to get their name in the press”.

It is not clear whether the e-mails are sent by officers, councillors or members of the public.

A council spokeswoman said: “The redaction, the blanking out of names or information, is used to strike a balance between public access to official information and the need to protect personal information.

“Freedom of information requires public authorities to release information unless it is exempt and wrongly withholding information will breach the Freedom of Information Act. However, wrongly releasing an individual’s personal information will breach the Data Protection Act. Where FOI and DPA principles of protecting personal information clash the DPA takes precedence.

“One of the things we have to consider is whether the personal information would add to the value of information disclosed. Even where disclosure is necessary to address the legitimate public interest, it may still be unwarranted if there is a disproportionate detriment to the rights and interests of the individual concerned.”

The traffic lights were installed in March in an attempt to increase capacity at the Telford Bridge junction in advance of the opening of a new supermarket off Dark Lane.

However, they have met with an angry response from the public and hundreds have called for them to be removed and a mini-roundabout reinstated, saying the signals are dangerous, confusing, cause congestion and spoil the appearance of the town.

The Lights Out campaign is continuing to analyse the results of the FOI request.

Chairman David Towns said: “Our campaign team is working through the piles of correspondence uncovered so there may be worse to come.”