Traffic lights chaos warning in Morpeth after temporary signals cause tailbacks
There are fears motorists in Morpeth are set to face more traffic lights misery in the town centre.
Drivers have faced lengthy tailbacks while passing close to Lancaster Park due to a set of temporary signals, which were installed to enable Northern Powergrid to carry out vital works.
The lights last week caused huge jams at peak times, but the tailbacks could be an ongoing problem as a new set of permanent signals are due to be fitted in the same location as part of planning permission for Persimmon’s Charles Church brand to build 53 new homes on land north of The Garth, off Pottery Bank.
The plans were eventually nodded through following an appeal hearing in the summer of 2019.
But due to the queues last week, calls have been made for a mini-roundabout to be installed at the junction instead.
Lancaster Park resident Paul Howey said: “Persimmon originally planned for a roundabout, but changed that to lights when the neighbouring development then used the existing Fulbeck entrance and then didn't want the expense of funding a roundabout unilaterally.
“I was told by Persimmon Homes North East MD Chris Curry it would allocate costs of the traffic lights to Northumberland County Council towards a roundabout instead, but the council said having a roundabout there was too expensive.
“However, I believe this junction meets the Department for Transport criteria for both size of available area, and traffic flow, for a mini-roundabout and this would cost less than traffic lights.
“A trial mini-roundabout would be very cheap and straightforward and we would avoid the traffic chaos that traffic lights would bring.
“A Freedom of Information request to the council also confirmed there is no guidance, rules or future issues that would prevent the council from installing a mini roundabout.
“We hope that Persimmon and the council's highways and planning departments will revisit this issue.”
Fellow Lancaster Park resident Colin Coates was among a group of people who collected their own traffic data and presented it at the appeal hearing as they did not believe the developer’s traffic figures.
He said: “From what we found, there will be a fair bit of traffic congestion even at non-peak times if these lights are put in place.
“The temporary lights were three-way and the permanent lights planned are four-way, so the tailbacks would be even worse. It would definitely be a nightmare for local residents.”
Morpeth North county councillor David Bawn, also Mayor of Morpeth, said: “I fear the chaos that these temporary lights have caused will be a harbinger of the disruption to come when these lights are installed.
“No matter what these modellers say, we know in Morpeth that traffic lights simply don’t work.
“I remain disappointed that lights will be installed after the developer had its scheme approved on appeal against the council’s wishes.”
A spokesman for Charles Church said: “We understand there are concerns about traffic management based on previous experiences at a different area of the town. However, we have worked closely with the highways authority to analyse and assess this junction and remain committed to the traffic lights.
“They have the advantage of being programmed to manage traffic flow at peak times and also have the advantage of bringing traffic to a complete stop, improving safety for vehicles turning right in and out of Lancaster Park, allowing safe pedestrian crossing and creating a dedicated area for cyclists on the junction.
“The junction has passed external road safety audit reviews and the county highways team is happy with its design and operation.
“It is therefore considered that this is the best operating design for this junction.”
Huge tailbacks were caused when signals were installed next to Telford Bridge in 2012. They were removed 18 months later following a Lights Out! campaign that was supported by thousands of residents.
More traffic lights are scheduled to be installed in a different part of Morpeth, as reported in the Herald earlier this year.
They are set to be put in place on Dark Lane by the junction with the Morpeth NHS Centre as part of planning permission for 158 properties on land south of Bluebell Court, East Cottingwood, which comes under the St George's housing scheme.
It was provisionally granted by Northumberland County Council’s strategic planning committee and planning officers formally signed off just before the election campaign period in the spring.
Coun Bawn said at the time the fact that the works are not required until a certain number of the new homes are occupied means there is still time for the county council to go back to the drawing board and work out a roundabout solution with the housing developer, Linden Homes.