Fresh efforts are to be made to resolve the major congestion issues that have plagued Northallerton for years. Hannah Chapman looks at the background

WHAT to do about Low Gates level crossing is a question that has plagued councillors, engineers, motorists and businesspeople for decades.

It has also plagued me personally, as my route to and from work takes me through Northallerton to Darlington.

I try and avoid the North End of the town where possible. Cutting through pothole-riddled back lanes and risking my car's suspension is preferable to sitting in the interminable traffic.

As anyone who is a regular driver in Northallerton will know, you can sit there for 20 minutes thinking of all the more productive things you could be doing with that time, only to get within yards of the crossing to find the barriers on their way down again.

I think it's actually better when the trains run through without any gaps at all. As the saying goes, it's the hope that kills you. Four in a row on a Friday night when the chip shop was about to shut is my record.

When I have to go through the town, coming in via Friarage Street, it is not uncommon for vehicles to be backed up past the town hall - more than half a mile - bringing the whole town to a standstill, all the while chugging out exhaust fumes into the town centre.

I'm lucky as I only have to try and get through the town twice a day, and usually not at rush hour. Friends who have businesses on Standard Way industrial estate tell me of the wasted hours they spend trying to do simple errands, and of the lost customers who are simply not prepared to wrestle with the traffic.

The line carries freight, and passenger trains between Teesside and Manchester Airport, and Grand Central services between Sunderland and London.

Figures show that Northallerton's three crossings at Low Gates, Romanby Road and Boroughbridge Road are down for about four and a half hours every day.

At peak times, the Low Gates crossing can be shut for 25 minutes in every hour.

Various schemes have been put forward to ease the traffic problems, including a £5 million bridge to take traffic over the line.

That project was abandoned in 2006 because it was unlikely to qualify for government support funding, but North Yorkshire County Council vowed it had not given up on the scheme.

Ten years down the increasingly-congested track, the latest idea is a relief road and bridge over the East Coast Main Line as part of the North Northallerton Masterplan.

These plans are well advanced, and were approved by Hambleton District Council's planning committee in November. Crucially, more than £12 million has been secured from developers and the local enterprise partnership to pay for the new road, which will run from the A167 to the A684, cutting across farmland between Brompton and Northallerton.

The Masterplan will be Hambleton district's largest ever development - 1,050 homes and a school plus the link road and bridge.

Critics say the housing is not needed and should not be sited next to a noisy industrial estate, and the relief road is only moving the traffic issue to a different area of the town.

Backers claim the Masterplan is vital to the economic future of Northallerton, which has been hit by a number of major employers pulling out in recent years.

What is not in doubt, is that the plans will generate huge amounts of extra traffic close to the Low Gates crossing. Councillors admit that the relief road will alleviate the congestion, but not solve it entirely.

So back to the original question, what is to be done?

Richmond MP Rishi Sunak, frustrated at delays he has experienced travelling through the town, has called a meeting of Northallerton Town, Hambleton District and North Yorkshire County councils and Network Rail to explore the options, and potential costs.

He admits there is not a simple answer, and says: "If there was it would have been implemented."

Neighbouring town Bedale provides a shining example of what can be achieved in terms of an ambitious traffic-busting project. Work is well underway on a £34.5 million bypass that will cut the number of vehicles travelling through the town by half, and improve access to industrial estates and the A1M.

Clearly Northallerton's issues would require a much more technical solution, but at least those in a position to take action are once again putting the matter at the top of their agenda.