People power saves bus link

A public outcry has earned a reprieve for a bus link described as a lifeline for remote rural communities.

About 150 people at a meeting in Wooler on Wednesday, March 6, were told by county council transport support manager Ian Coe the 710 Kelso-Newcastle Saturday service would now continue for at least another year and he wanted to work with them to keep it going longer.

He began with an apology for the way the authority had announced its intention to withdraw subsidy from this Easter. It ‘should have embarked on a full and proper consultation before even considering any change to the service’, he told the meeting at Glendale Middle School.

Some people had objected to the tone of its letter suggesting Saturday was not as important a day to travel as others. “I am sorry that has happened. I have realised from the Press and letters and the people here tonight how popular, how needed it is for the communities it serves.

“So, our aim should therefore be not whether the service is to be withdrawn, but how we can keep it going. No decision has been taken on this service and it will continue at least until April 2014.”

First to comment was Wooler parish councillor Joyce Robertson, who quoted from the Gazette report of the initial letter, which said the bus was ‘primarily used for non-essential shopping trips’.

“I have a great dislike for that, and how dare she say what we shop for and what we think is important.”

The service is run on Wednesday and Saturday by Wooler company Glen Valley Tours, but only Saturday’s is subsidised by the county, to the tune of £7,200 a year or £138 a time. The Wooler return fare is £8. The bus serves small communities from Cornhill-on-Tweed to Longframlington.

Parish councillor Coun Rosanna Reed said: “I feel we are being penalised because we live in a rural area. If you are going to shop – why not?”

Others argued it was a good thing to support shops in the region rather than buying online.

Mr Coe said some rural Northumberland communities had lost all their buses and so the focus had fallen on the 710 because there were two a week. “This has been a learning experience for me – to listen to communities before taking action and where there is a strength of feeling such as there has been from the communities for this route, clearly the objective must be to look at how we can keep the service on rather than whether it should be withdrawn.”

County and parish councillor Anthony Murray, who chaired the meeting, said the two 710 services were complementary and that was why they were so important.