Letters

Twelve months ago, Newton on the Moor and Swarland had bus services that took passengers to Alnwick and Newcastle.

On Monday, May 14, I sat down with representatives from Harbottle, Longframlington, Swarland and Newton on the Moor to discuss with an officer from County Hall, how we could find an alternative when the remaining Thursday 813 service ceases at the end of September.

We were told that this decision had been taken because the tenders to continue the bus route were too high.

Two very interesting facts emerged. One, the tender document drawn up by county officers, demanded that the buses could not be more than 10 years old and must be disability friendly (Tell that to Arriva).

Secondly, if the community supplied an alternative service, bus passes would no longer be valid and all passengers would have to pay the full fare.

Half-way through our meeting the Rothbury representative arrived, having attended the Northern Area meeting and gave us the information carried on your front page last week.

We now know the Lib Dem executive had accepted a carefully-considered cross-party report from Coun Gordon Castle’s scrutiny committee, recommending a three-stage scale of subsidies for bus services, with the highest subsidy per passenger going to the longest journey and the lowest to shorter journeys.

This is entirely logical and properly reflects the problems of rural isolation with long journeys to the nearest town compared to the relative ease of getting around larger settlements and their higher populations.

I cannot imagine there is much need for any subsidy arrangements in the south eastern towns, but there is a clear social need to retain whatever bus services we can in remoter parts of our large county.

However, the latest Northumberland Sustainable Transport Strategy, now out for consultation, completely ignores this policy and states that subsidies for all bus journeys will be at the lowest rate on the scale, regardless of distance.

No rationale is offered, although we can guess it is financially driven and we have no explanation for dropping an agreed policy almost immediately after it has been adopted.

We in the forgotten parts of rural Northumberland must make our voices heard and protest vigorously at these proposals or once again we will be put at a further disadvantage compared to the populous south east.

Like the deprived communities around the route of the 813, those villages with limited services such as Longhoughton, Embleton, Ellingham, Craster and Newton by the Sea will become bus-free areas.

What happened to the warm words about rural proofing, fairness and equality of treatment that we were promised as the cornerstone of Northumberland County Council policies?

It is hard enough in our remote settlements with spiralling fuel costs and crumbling roads, but yet again we are first in line to suffer the withdrawal of bus services that would have been protected had the existing policy been applied as intended.

The solution offered to our meeting was to apply for funding, as mentioned on your front page. The only problem we have is it has to have matched funding.

Why? What has happened the money from our withdrawn subsidy?

Please think again Lib Dem councillors. Enough is enough.

The rural communities are not the bankers for the urban areas. You knew what was right last year, stick with the agreed policy.

David Rixon,

By email.