Speed limit on sections of the A697 could be reduced

Councillor Glen Sanderson on the A697
Councillor Glen Sanderson on the A697

The speed limit on sections of the A697, which has been branded one of the most accident-ridden A-class roads in the UK, could be reduced to improve its safety record.

A series of serious smashes in 2012, which included some fatalities, prompted Coun Glen Sanderson to call for urgent action to be taken.

The plea has led to the creation of the A697 Working Group, made up of a number of county councillors, and the committee held its first meeting recently.

A series of measures to improve its safety are being investigated, including lowering the 60mph speed limit in places.

Coun Sanderson, ward member for Longhorsley, said: “The purpose of the group is to try to concentrate on what is one of the most accident-ridden A-class roads in the UK.

“Initial work by engineers suggest that a lowering of the speed limit on some sections from 60mph to 50mph might be considered. Speed indicator signs might be utilised in a number of villages.”

Latest accident figures for the past five years show that there have been five fatal, 30 serious and 110 slight accidents on the A697.

Coun Sanderson told the Gazette that the worst section was within his ward area, from Heighley Gate through to Longframlington.

He said: “Initial work suggests that it is the mix of traffic and weather conditions that are largely to blame for the majority of accidents. However, I firmly believe that speed is an issue.”

In July, Coun Sanderson criticised the Northumbria Safer Roads Initiative, which is a combination of organisations, including the county council and Northumbria Police, for ignoring the A697.

His scathing remarks came after discovering that mobile speed camera vans had not been deployed along the stretch of road in the six months up until June last year.

He wrote to Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird about the issue and will ask for a speed camera update in three months time.

He added: “I was shocked recently to discover that a camera van had visited an area near Morpeth with a far lower accident record on 18 occasions over the past year and handed out more than 2,300 fixed penalty notices.

“The county council contributes almost £130,000 to the partnership so the council should be lobbying the partnership to deploy these vans where the accidents are.

“The council must not lose sight of the importance of the road. The working group is keen to see this unacceptable level of accidents fall.”