‘Vote us in and the lights will go’

COUNTY Conservatives have pledged to remove a set of traffic lights immediately if they win control of the council.

The promise has been issued amid widespread opposition to the new Telford Bridge signals.

At a recent public meeting organised by the Morpeth and Wansbeck Conservative Association a show of hands indicated almost unanimous support for the lights to be taken down and the former mini-roundabout reinstated.

But a senior Lib Dem councillor has described the election pledge as ‘stupid’ if it means going against expert advice.

Northumberland Conservatives Group Leader Peter Jackson said: “Morpeth Conservatives hope and expect that the Telford Bridge traffic lights will be removed and the mini-roundabout replaced with immediate effect.

“However, if this has not happened by the time of the local elections in May next year and Northumberland Conservatives win control of the county council at those elections, we would order the immediate replacement of the traffic lights.

“We cannot remove the lights now because we do not control the council. In the meantime, Morpeth Conservatives will continue to apply pressure on the Lib Dems to do the right thing and scrap the lights.”

Serving Morpeth Liberal Democrat councillor Andrew Tebbutt, who is Executive Member for Corporate Resources at Northumberland County Council, has previously said that more time is needed to thoroughly assess the lights, but he would support their removal if the evidence shows they are not working and highways experts agree.

He said: “I have yet to meet a politician that will go directly against the technical and expert advice of their officers.

“If that is what the Conservatives are saying they will have to answer for that to the general public.

“The only people who will take out the traffic lights are the officers, based on highways issues.

“It is a stupid comment and it is totally and utterly beyond the pale. They know that they would not ignore the advice of the officers.

“If the officers recommend that the lights be removed on highways grounds obviously all of us would do that, but there is no way that a Conservative councillor worth his or her salt would ignore the advice of officers.”

The lights have been installed to accommodate the expected increase in traffic from the Dark Lane supermarket development by Dransfield Properties.

However, the Conservatives have hit out at suggestions that the decision to put in the signals was down to the developer, saying council officers had the final say.

A Transport Assessment by consultants AECOM in March 2011 suggested that as there were council concerns about the environmental impact of signals and the ‘urbanisation’ of Morpeth, the mini-roundabout could be retained, but modified to widen the eastern carriageway.

It stated: “The performance of the junction and indeed the local road network in Morpeth will continue to be monitored by NCC and if deemed appropriate and necessary, further appropriate mitigation measures may be implemented. These mitigations will be at the discretion of NCC and may or may not include the traffic signalised junction previously presented.”

However, three months later an Additional Technical Note from AECOM was produced following queries from councillors about the technical merits of traffic lights.

The report found that the roundabout would operate beyond capacity, while traffic lights would address capacity with more manageable queue lengths.

It concluded: “In general, traffic signal controlled junctions offer additional capacity than those achievable with a roundabout. In addition, traffic signal control enables a greater degree of network control and offers the potential for wider traffic management proposals to be developed, should the council so wish.”

The updated report was presented as part of the supermarket application before the North Area Planning Committee.

A council spokeswoman said: “The March 2011 document was superseded by a subsequent report that demonstrated that the traffic signals option was the only way traffic impacts could be mitigated. The concerns expressed in the March 2011 document were therefore alleviated. Officers therefore made the decision to recommend going ahead with the traffic signals scheme. This was explained in the planning committee report that was considered and approved in July 2011.”

A Facebook campaign page against the lights now has more than 1,650 members and has attracted more than 20,000 posts.

A Herald reader has highlighted a 15-minute BBC Radio 4 programme, Four Thought, which is available on BBC iPlayer, in which campaigner Martin Cassini argues that there should be a drastic cut in the number of traffic lights.