HIGHWAYS bosses have been ordered to go back to the drawing board over the controversial Telford Bridge junction.
After almost a year of protests against traffic lights at the busy Morpeth gateway, Northumberland County Council has agreed to look at other options.
The turn-about follows an independent review of the traffic network by consultant Phil Jones and a series of workshops involving town and county councillors, Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade, Morpeth First School, the Lights Out campaign and Dransfield Properties.
At a session last week it was unanimously agreed that county council officers should investigate an alternative to the lights that will meet the needs of traffic management and pedestrians.
If officers say the lights are the only solution, they will have to present evidence of all the options examined and give details of why they have been discounted.
Mr Jones is now urgently carrying out traffic modelling of various options to pass on to the council.
However, campaigners against the lights have been warned that there will be no quick fix as any changes will have to go through legal processes and road safety checks, as well as design and implementation stages.
And even a trial removal of the lights is unlikely until the summer.
A Lights Out spokesman said: “We are very pleased that the steering group has taken seriously the concerns raised by local people about ongoing congestion and safety issues and that it has asked officers to explore an alternative solution, which should include the removal of the lights.
“It is, of course, frustrating that it may still take some time before changes are made, but we appreciate that the council will have to jump through a series of legal hoops.”
Chamber of Trade Chairman George Williams said: “We are extremely pleased that action now seems to be taking place. However, with all the legalities to go through it is going to be many months before any changes can be made.
“It is somewhat of a shame that the authorities did not move quickly when it was so obvious that the traffic lights were causing disruption. We believe there has been economic damage done to the town over the last 12 months and that this will continue to harm the town for months to come.”
There has been fierce opposition to the lights since they were installed last April, including public meetings, a petition and a protest march. A survey by Lights Out found that 95 per cent of respondents disliked the signals and 93 per cent would prefer a roundabout.
A spokesman for Morpeth Town Council said: “It is good to see that progress is being made in line with Morpeth Town Council’s policy agreed in July last year on this issue.
“The town council believes that an alternative solution to the traffic lights at Telford Bridge must be found to meet the future needs for traffic management and to meet the needs of pedestrians. If this is not the case, evidence must be produced that the lights are the only solution to meet these needs and why alternative proposals have been discounted.”
County Corporate Director of Local Services Barry Rowland said: “We will continue to work closely with Phil Jones, members of the steering group and officers working on the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan to progress this matter as quickly as possible and agree a long-term solution.”