Arriva to withdraw service from heart of Northumberland village after bus hit church wall

Arriva is set to withdraw its Coast and Castles bus service from the centre of a Northumberland village.

Sunday, 1st December 2019, 8:00 am
Updated Sunday, 1st December 2019, 8:00 am
An Arriva X18 Coast and Castles bus at Craster. Picture by Iain Robson
An Arriva X18 Coast and Castles bus at Craster. Picture by Iain Robson

The decision has been made because of problems getting the X18 bus through the congested centre of Beadnell, especially in the summer season.

The issue was brought to a head in October when a bus collided with a church wall while trying to get through a narrow gap.

Chris Curtis, commercial manager at Arriva North East, said: “We have been struggling with delays to our buses because of heavy traffic and obstructions in the village over a period of years.

“That was partly because of parking but also because of general congestion. We are running buses which are 11.9m long x 2.5m wide because we have to for capacity reasons.

“Sometimes drivers will try to squeeze through but at other times drivers will sometimes have to wait 20 or 30 minutes.

“We had a nastier incident early in October involving the church wall which caused several thousand pounds worth of damage to one of our vehicles.

“At that point we decided we needed to take some action.”

Mr Curtis, speaking at a meeting of Beadnell Parish Council, continued: “We are still committed to the village but spoke to Northumberland County Council where we told them we would have to find an alternative way around the village. We talked about missing out the stops in the centre of the village and turning around in a loop at the Bullring and we took that proposal to the council.”

The company formally notified the county council of its intentions and has registered the change of route with the Traffic Commissioners which comes into effect on January 5, 2020.

“It’s with a very heavy heart that we make changes like this but we have done very similar things in Alnmouth and Seahouses,” he added. “In both places we have left the door open in that if there are substantial improvements in the enforcement of traffic then we will look at going back in.”

The decision was taken before parking restrictions were extended last week.

While some residents feel the restrictions do not go far enough, parish council chair Alison Nation felt bus drivers would now notice a difference and called on Arriva to reconsider its decision.

“We had no inkling of this until we were informed by the county council that it was pretty much a done deal,” she said. “We were aware of occasional problems, although I don’t know how the bus driver managed to hit that wall quite so hard.

“We have taken action so can this decision be put off for six months and revisited then because I do think circumstances have changed?”

Mr Curtis said he would discuss it with that operational team but that, as things stand, its formal intention to change the route would remain.

“That bottleneck by the church means that, no matter which direction you are coming from, once the driver is committed to that central section of the village he or she can’t turn around,” he said. “It’s not possible to do a three or even five point turn in a 2.5m wide bus.

“I do think rural areas like this have a fantastic bus service but, at the same time, those services are very marginal so a five-figure sum for damages like we’ve just had does have a significant impact on the viability of the service.

“I would rather truncate the route of the service through the village than take it out completely.

“I will ask my colleagues if there has been an improvement but, as it stands, we are not going to remove the steps we have already taken until we are sure there has been a significant improvement.

“From a commercial perspective, firstly, we can’t afford to be incurring that amount of damage and, secondly, when buses have been delayed by 20 or 30 minutes the impact on other people on the route is massive and as an operator which serves everywhere between Berwick and Newcastle we can’t take that hit to our punctuality.”

He added: “Everything we do is aimed at growing bus usage. It might not sound like that when we’re talking about withdrawing the service from the centre of the village but, actually, what we’ve done in Seahouses and Alnmouth has substantially improved the punctuality of the service which allows people to have great confidence in it.”

Neil Easton, senior policy officer at the county council, said the authority would fund a flag and pole bus stop at the Bullring. However, he acknowledged concerns about the distance elderly residents would have to walk to get to the centre.

He also revealed the council was in discussions with Arriva about the possibility of enhancing the X18 service on Sundays and on bank holidays and extending the summer timetable.

“There are no guarantees,” he said, “but we’ve talked to Chris about maybe putting a little bit of money towards it.”

Parish councillors also asked for an extension of the service to the beach car park area to be explored.

They felt it could be attractive to tourists, while it was also noted that many of the village’s schoolchildren live in that area.

Mr Curtis responded: “We will go away and look at it. We are always open to suggestions and we may bring a bus down to test it.”

Travelsure will continue to operate its bus services through the village.