Concern over rural buses

FRUSTRATED parish councillors have voiced concerns about bus services to their north Northumberland villages.

The area committee north heard that Longframlington Parish Council has raised a number of issues to do with the X14 and 144 services.

Grievances include a shortage of printed timetables, lack of services on Sundays and Bank Holidays and a lack of information if buses are delayed or cancelled because of bad weather – a point highlighted during the severe cold snap at the end of last year.

They have also complained about the X14 service which runs via Seaton Burn, which is said to be prone to delays.

Ian Coe, transport support manager for the county council, told the meeting that bus services are currently under review.

Arriva is reviewing its services along what is described as the Morpeth A1 corridor, including the long-distance 501 and 505 services.

At the same time, several bus services in the Morpeth area operated under contract to the county council are due to expire in September this year and are beginning to be reviewed preparatory to being put out to tender, including the X14 and the 144.

As part of the review process, town and parish councils on or near the routes in question are being given the chance to voice their feelings and bring the specific needs of their communities to the attention of both the county council and Arriva before the planning process is complete.

Mr Coe said that Longframlington Parish Council’s letters of complaint, to both Arriva and the county council, will be taken as responses and comments from a follow-up questionnaire which has been sent to them regarding public transport will all be bundled together and taken to Arriva as part of the consultation.

But Coun Trevor Thorne, ward member for Shilbottle, hit back.

“It is a problem of communication. Yes Arriva might be reviewing their services but if the bus users in villages don’t no what is going on or they are removed without any warnings, these people are left high and dry.

“They rely on the bus services and many use it to get to work. If these services stop they can’t get to work. It is the fact that there is very little warning given from Arriva about the cancellation and postponement of services. People are getting very frustrated.”

Coun Steven Bridgett, ward member for Rothbury and Coquetdale, echoed Coun Thorne’s concerns and said that he had also had complaints, going back in excess of 12 months, about the buses which go to Longframlington, which also serve Rothbury and Thropton.

He said issues included buses being unclean, having no heating and he said there were times when the driver has driven past bus stops when people have been queuing to use the bus.

The meeting heard that such matters would be taken to the county council’s Bus Scrutiny Working Group.

Richard Hayes, highways north area maintenance manager for the county council, said that disruption had been caused to services during the bad weather at the end of last year and said that the route from Pauperhaugh to Longframlington was a particularly difficult one.

He said that Arriva does give the county council information about any service disruptions and the county council does try to pass it on its website, while during the periods of bad weather, Arriva was sending information to the county council every half-hour.