A NORTH EAST council has agreed to cancel hundreds of bus lane charges after congestion reached new levels in a town centre and prompted the chief executive to issue an apology, The Northern Echo can reveal.

Gateshead Council has confirmed to The Echo that Parking Charge Notices issued at the Askew Road bus lane from Friday through to Sunday have been cancelled after scenes of "absolute chaos" in the town centre over the weekend.

It comes after the council's chief executive, Sheena Ramsey admitted traffic problems in the town were "on a scale not seen previously," and apologised for the "anxiety and inconvenience" caused to drivers.

Read more: Council admits Gateshead traffic chaos worse than ever

Speaking to The Northern Echo, one driver said they witnessed dozens of cars forced to use the bus lane as traffic was left gridlocked along Askew Road, Nelson Street and West Street after the Redheugh Bridge was closed on Sunday.

The Northern Echo: The Askew Road bus lane as it was installed last year The Askew Road bus lane as it was installed last year

Describing scenes never seen before, he said drivers trying to cross from Gateshead to Newcastle had gridlocked the roads in and around the town centre as they initially attempted to avoid the bus lane.

'It was just ridiculous'

He said: “I was there at around 1pm and saw dozens of cars all getting irate at the fact they had been standing gridlocked for more than an hour, so they were just cutting through the bus lane just to get away from the gridlock. They had no other option.

Read more: Go North East services in County Durham see changes due to driver shortages

"Under normal circumstances, it generally works fine, but if they are going to have ideas like closing the Redheugh Bridge, then they should suspend the bus lane for the time that is closed to alleviate the problem – it was just ridiculous.

"The council must have made an absolute killing, there were hundreds going through the bus lane." 

'We were bumper to bumper'

Over the weekend, others reported mayhem with Sam Shanks of Heworth saying her shopping had been left ruined after being stuck as the roads around Tesco Extra were gridlocked for around two hours on Friday.

Read more: Drivers using Askew Road in Gateshead warned of MAJOR change

She said: “We tried to leave at 1.30pm to pick up our daughter from school at 2.30pm and we were right at the back corner so didn’t realise it was bumper to bumper on the way out. We were stuck in the car park with everyone else for two hours.

“We were already committed and in the queue so couldn’t park up and abandon the car. Luckily for us my mother in law was able to get our daughter so that was one thing we didn’t have to worry about. All the shopping was defrosted."

The Northern Echo: The roads near Tesco supermarket were left affected by the gridlock Picture: GOOGLEThe roads near Tesco supermarket were left affected by the gridlock Picture: GOOGLE

“Getting out of Tesco the traffic coming along Nelson Road to join up by Wilkinson was bumper to bumper moving inch by inch.”

Gateshead Council introduced the bus lane on Askew Road, approaching the Tyne Bridge, in July last year, and recently confirmed so called "experimental measures" had been renewed.

At the time, the council confirmed the changes - which also include, Hills Street being closed to through traffic and Nelson Street/Lambton Street becoming access only to and from the Trinity Square shopping centre - would be staying in place for at least another two years.

'We recognise the anxiety and inconvenience caused'

But last night, the council said that it had taken the decision not to issue PCNs on the eastern section of the Askew Road bus lane as it said there had been a combination of causes for the lengthy delays.

A spokesperson told The Northern Echo: "We have considered the circumstances surrounding the traffic problems experienced around Gateshead town centre at the end of last week, and recognise the anxiety and inconvenience caused by lengthy delays.

"Taking this into account, we have decided to not to issue penalty charge notices (PCNs) for use of the bus lane on the eastern section of Askew Road. This will apply to all PCNs on Friday 17th Saturday 18th and Sunday 19th September."

'Exceptional traffic'

Highlighting that their actions had been a gesture of goodwill, the council said traffic seen over the weekend was exceptional and that it was investigating all the reasons behind what happened to minimise the risk of it happening again.

The spokesperson said: "It is already clear that increased traffic driven by people attending events across Tyneside, coinciding with vehicle breakdowns and scheduled bridge maintenance, put extra pressure on our busy town centre road network.

"We have recently affirmed our commitment to retaining the road layouts and traffic management at the north end of Gateshead town centre, and this remains the case."

But describing the next steps following the chaos, the council said that it would be reviewing how it manages traffic going forward. 

He said: "However, we will be reviewing how we manage the town centre network and signage, to try to keep traffic moving and minimise delays.

"Any action that is taken will need to sit within the wider context of the Council’s responsibilities.

"We need to shift the balance away from the private car and towards alternative forms of transport."


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