Traffic lights review ordered

HIGHWAYS bosses have ordered a whole-scale review of Morpeth’s road network – but traffic light campaigners are keeping up the pressure.

Northumberland County Council has agreed to carry out a major consultation exercise to find the best option for managing town centre traffic following fierce opposition to the new signals at Telford Bridge.

Opponents say the lights are unsafe, confusing and unsightly and have led to congestion and rat-runs in residential areas.

At least one of the options will involve the removal of the signals and the installation of an improved roundabout at the bridge.

Despite the new developments, a planned protest march against the lights tomorrow will still go ahead.

Resident David Clark, who is a member of the Lights Out campaign group, said: “This is a significant concession from council officers and a recognition that despite paper-based reports and safety audits, this junction continues to present residents of Morpeth with daily congestion and confusion.

“We are very pleased that officers are taking our concerns and our campaign seriously and that this has so far resulted in the plan for such a major review of all of Morpeth’s long-standing traffic problems.

“However, now is the time to keep the pressure on and the protest march is further evidence of this campaign taking action and taking the fight to County Hall.”

The authority’s change of heart was announced in a meeting between highways officers and Lights Out Chairman and county councillor David Towns on Tuesday.

He said that officials acknowledged the junction is causing problems and the situation has not improved as anticipated.

Head of Sustainable Transport Mike Scott said: “We have agreed to undertake a wide ranging review of the traffic network in Morpeth, with the aim of making it the most safe and effective that it can be. That may or may not include the traffic lights being kept.

“Our current evidence is that the traffic lights represent the best way of mitigating the impact of the superstore in a safe manner, but we continue to have an open mind about what better alternatives can be found.

“We will hold consultation meetings, which will be facilitated by an independent expert from outside of Northumberland in order to ensure a full range of views are fully explored and entrenched opinions do not dominate.

“The current campaign has focused on removal of the traffic lights, but not on what the viable and safe alternatives might be. This work will provide the opportunity to explore alternatives in an open and collaborative way.”

A petition of around 2,500 signatures was collected against the traffic lights, a Facebook campaign page has some 1,600 members and hundreds of residents have attended two public meetings about the signals.

This week Lights Out mascot Larry the Lion has been urging drivers to show their support for the campaign by sounding their horns, and members of the group gathered in the Market Place to raise awareness of the march.

Coun Towns said: “We managed to speak to hundreds of people and I could count on one hand the number who did not have a problem with the lights. We heard stories of tailbacks, near misses, and most alarmingly for the town, details of how people now tended to avoid Morpeth unless they really had to come into the town.”

The march will begin in the Market Place at 11am tomorrow, making its way to County Hall.

Taxi drivers have offered to ferry elderly and less able people wishing to support the march to County Hall and back.

James Scott, of Tartan Taxis, said: “We, more than anyone, appreciate why these lights need to be removed. We spend hours a week sitting at them, burning fuel.”