A North East fitness guru claims that his business has lost thousands of pounds as a result of the Tyne Tunnel’s switch to a new cashless system.
David Fairlamb moved his well-known gym to a new base on the Tyne Tunnel Trading Estate last year, but says his clients are now being put off coming for sessions with him because of traffic problems.
While bosses at tunnel operator TT2 firmly deny the accusations and insist that the removal of toll booths has led to improved journey times since last November, the fitness instructor and other businesses that have spoken to the Local Democracy Reporting Service are certain that the changes are causing vehicles to back up on surrounding roads.
Mr Fairlamb likened the situation to the major congestion before the second tunnel opened in 2011 and said his customers from across the region “just can’t get here when they want to”, with many wanting to come to the gym either early in the morning or after work – the times when traffic around the Tyne Tunnel is at its worst.
He added: “TT2 have said this is nothing to do with them and it would be like this anyway, and that the journey times have actually sped up.
“But if you ask anyone on the trading estate, they will tell you how much worse it is now trying to get to work and back.
“It is really impacting my business, I have maybe lost a few thousand pounds.”
The personal trainer moved David Fairlamb Fitness to the trading estate in April 2021 and says he traded for six months without any problems, before the new toll payment system came into force.
Mr Fairlamb added: “I moved to this place thinking it would be easy for people to get to. TT2 say the traffic has always been like this, but it hasn’t.
“I used to pick my daughter up from South Shields and we live on the north side. At its worst it used to take three hours to get there and back, and now it is the same again – it’s like we have gone back 20 years.”
Paul Walker, who works at the Domani home interiors showroom on the trading estate, agreed that the Tyne Tunnel’s new system is “just not working”.
He said: “The traffic backs up on the slip road and onto the trading estate, so you can’t pull out of here. It is complete and utter chaos at rush hour.
“I thought it was going to be great, but for some strange reason it is causing the traffic to back up. I have worked on the estate for a long time and getting out has never been great, but it has never been this bad before.”
TT2 says that, according to statistics from July, journey times through the Tyne Tunnel have improved by almost 40 seconds compared to when the toll barriers were in place and firmly denied any responsibility for congestion.
Chief executive Phil Smith said: “Since the Tyne Tunnels switched to open-road-tolling in November last year, monitoring shows that both congestion and journey times have reduced significantly.
“It is also a fact that the Tyne Tunnels are experiencing record-levels of traffic – with 1.597 million journeys made through the tunnels last month, yet journey times are the lower than ever.
“We have also seen increased traffic – particularly at peak times – further north on the A19 at the Silverlink junction. Additional traffic has also been generated by developments built since 2019, including the new temporary Nexus Depot at Howden and expansion of the Tyne Tunnel Trading Estate.
“TT2 is not responsible for roads away from the immediate area of the tunnels, nor those on the trading estate.
“Whilst we sympathise with anyone who feels frustrated by local traffic delays, we strongly refute the suggestion that the tunnels switching to open-road-tolling has caused these delays. On the contrary – if we had not put an end to drivers having to stop to pay their toll – thus reducing congestion and journey times – the traffic volumes at peak times on the A19 and the A193 slip road would be much, much higher.”