New operator sought for rural bus service in Northumberland

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Northumberland County Council is working to save a rural bus service following confirmation that Spirit Buses is to cease trading in the Coquet Valley.

The council is this week seeking to commission a replacement service, inviting transport operators to tender for the rural routes to ensure the continuation of bus services for the Coquetdale community, with around 20,000 residents and tourists using it each year to get from the valley to Alnwick, Morpeth and beyond.

The news comes hot on the heels of concerns over the future of the Rothbury-based company after director Steve Hurst released a lengthy statement last Friday.

It said: ‘Looking past November 5, we have a number of options. We are tirelessly exploring to find the best result for the communities we serve. We are in discussions with Northumberland County Council and other bus operators to ensure continuation of these lifeline services into the future.’

The statement underlined that there will be no changes to Spirit Buses’ services until November 5, but there will be no connections with Arriva’s X14 service in Rothbury after its timetable change on Sunday, September 25.

Coun Ian Swithenbank, cabinet member for local services, said: “We realise that this is a valued and important bus route for many residents in the isolated communities of the Coquet Valley, especially the elderly. This area has already experienced the loss of some important health services so we are well aware of the importance of maintaining transport links.”

Realising the rural bus company was in jeopardy, the county council recently offered to double the support it was already offering to £35,000 per annum. Combined with the concessionary fare reimbursement, the authority says that Spirit could potentially have received £53,000 from the council this year.

Last year, the authority paid Spirit £36,000. It stepped in with a £18,000 per annum financial lifeline to save two of Spirit’s rural bus services and paid out £18,000 in concessionary fare reimbursement.

In his statement, Mr Hurst did mention the council’s offer of additional funding, but added: ‘Unfortunately this isn’t sufficient to secure our services and would inevitably mean we would thereafter have to tender to run our own services in the future if we accepted this offer’.

Coun Swithenbank added: “Mr Hurst is well thought of in the community. He has provided a great service, working extremely hard to build up his business. We have offered substantial financial support and business advice to help him provide a viable service and are very sorry he has decided to cease operating on these routes.”

The Gazette had attempted to contact Spirit Buses today, but has received no response as yet.