Bus services are given a reprieve

Steve Hurst of Spirit Buses in Rothbury
Steve Hurst of Spirit Buses in Rothbury

An under-threat bus company which connects some of the county’s most rural communities has been handed a last-gasp reprieve.

Rothbury-based Spirit Buses currently provides scheduled services between Upper Coquetdale, Alnwick and Morpeth.

However, with the first year of operation drawing to a close, the routes had been deregistered from September 19, due to lack of viability, and the business faced an uncertain future.

But it has now been given a vital lifeline, after Northumberland County Council stepped in to offer support for the next year.

Spirit Buses director Steve Hurst said: “I am very grateful on behalf of all the residents, businesses and visitors to Upper Coquetdale that the county council is able to support the continuation of our core number 15 and 16 services.

“Our first year of operation has been pioneering and shown us that there is definitely a demand for our rural lifeline links, although to make them truly viable and cement their future we do still need to increase patronage, especially on some of the journeys.

“We hope to use this as a new start and look forward to working closely with the local authorities to develop what Spirit Buses can offer to the community over the coming year.”

The company was set up last September by Steve on a purely commercial basis, following extensive research on local demand for bus services. However, in practice, Steve found that passenger numbers have not been sufficient to ensure the viability of his services.

Following talks between the council and the company, the authority has agreed to a minimum subsidy to ensure the continuation of the core of the service to some of the county’s most remote communities.

The support will allow Spirit to continue delivering services and to work with the council to develop partnerships with local communities and other interested parties such as the Northumberland National Park.

Rothbury county councillor Steven Bridgett, who has been campaigning to save the services, said: “Following lengthy discussions, I am pleased that the council has been able to offer various forms of support to this unique service.

“The Coquet Valley is one of the most remote and sparsely populated places in England and this service has proved to be a lifeline for many residents. However, in the future, we will be keen to also see some financial support forthcoming from local parish councils to support this much-needed service. ”

Coun Scott Dickinson, the county council’s business chairman, said: “The county has many rural and isolated communities and these bus services can provide a lifeline. Spirit Buses has proved popular since starting last year and we are pleased to be able to support them to enable their services to continue.”

New timetables will be available soon from the county council and Spirit Buses websites.