Cuts threaten rural bus services

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RURAL areas could lose out on bus services because of a change to county subsidies, a meeting heard.

At Monday’s north area committee meeting, councillors were given an update on the county’s supported bus services review, which is looking at potentially scrapping some services for which the council pays more than £5 per passenger head in subsidy.

But the cost was questioned by Alnwick’s Coun Gordon Castle as the figures didn’t match up to those proposed by a bus subsidies working group.

He said that somewhere along the line the subsidies had been changed.

“The recommendation was that there should be a staggered subsidy rate,” he said.

“Short journeys should be £5 per passenger, medium-distance journeys £7.50 and longer journeys £10.

“This recommendation was made by the working group and accepted by the executive.

“But is seems that this review into sustainable transport has made a change with a flat rate across all journeys of £5 per passenger.

“This quite clearly is isolating rural services.”

A number of routes which currently exceed the £5 limit have been listed for potential closure.

These include the 501 from Belford to Beadnell in the evenings, the 460 Ellingham to Alnwick on Thursdays and the 470 Wooler to Alnwick via Eglingham during school holidays and on Saturdays.

Coun Castle added that the majority of these routes are in the rural areas.

“Two-thirds of the ones being looked at would have been covered by a staggered subsidy system,” he said.

“This change is now threatening a considerable number of services.

“The impact is quite clear. We need to find out how this has happened and whether or not any kind of staggered system could be introduced.”

Chairman of the committee, Coun Pat Scott, added that she had received a letter from a resident in Ellingham who described how vital the bus service through her village was because of a lack of local services.

Coun Scott said: “The axing of these services would have a significant detrimental effect on our rural areas.

“I am very concerned about the bus subsidy working group’s recommendations and changes as well.”

And Coun Ian Lindley echoed her concerns.

Coun Trevor Thorne added: “Two of my villages are not mentioned in the list of services here, but Swarland and Newton on the Moor are soon to be possibly isolated because of cuts to services. People will have no means of accessing services in larger towns.

“The county council has a responsibility to try to keep some sort of public transport going.”

Mike Scott, head of sustainable transport at County Hall, said: “It is not necessarily the case that all these services will be withdrawn. We need to review other services that are currently being offered and see if we can pull things together and reduce costs.”

Coun Steven Bridgett also raised concerns about national funding being spent on administration costs.

The council was given £150,000 to assist with bus services, but it is being managed by Adapt in Hexham.

Coun Bridgett said: “Could this not have been managed by the county council?

“My concern is money is being spent on management instead of being spent on bus services.”