“Shooting local people in the foot”

Date: Friday 1st June 2007

THREATS to axe bus services into Northumberland have brought dismay to Alston Moor.

Ian Wright, a director of Nenthead-based Wright Bros., which has been running most of the services, said the first the company heard about the proposed cuts was when the agenda for last week’s meeting of Eden local committee was published.

“It’s rather political, because they are saying that the key centre for Alston is Carlisle and that because Alston has a service to Carlisle that’s fine it doesn’t need any other service. Pensioners can have their free travel to Carlisle, but people prefer to go to Hexham and Newcastle it doesn’t seem to register. Freedom of choice seems to be low on the agenda,” he said.

“What grieves me from the public’s point of view is that people prefer to use the 888 service and they are mainly Cumbrian people and yet Northumberland provides the service. Most of them get on at Nenthead and Alston, very few in Northumberland. It is shooting local people in the foot.”

He said there appeared to have been no consultation by Cumbria with Northumberland County Council, which provides half the subsidy on the 888.

The report to county councillors said a survey had shown only two people using the 888 Monday-to-Friday service to Hexham and Newcastle for getting to work, neither returning in the evening. “They failed to mention the other people who did use the service for leisure trips a lot more than two,” said Mr. Wright.

If the 888 was withdrawn, there would be no vehicle in Newcastle at the right time in the morning to run the three-month summer bus from Newcastle to Keswick. It would mean the end of the “Geordie service” which brought visitors from Tyneside into the Lake District, spending money in Cumbria.

Wright Bros. would probably have to shed drivers because of the cuts. School contracts gave about two hours’ work for drivers at each end of the day but work on the scheduled services could be spread out to give them a full day’s work and a living wage.

“Drivers will not be able to make enough money. It will lead to a reduction in employment by us. We shall need one or two fewer drivers,” said Mr. Wright. “As far as the business goes, it doesn’t do us any favours at all.”

The firm already had problems with its depot. It was an old building but to redevelop it the site once used for lead working would first have to be reclaimed.

Regular passenger Mrs. Olive Bulman, of Front Street, Nenthead, said: “I’m very disappointed, because we have just lost our post office and shop in Nenthead and we need the bus to go to Alston for the post office, the bank and a little shopping.

“Just as important is the service to Hexham on a Tuesday. It is very suitable for us because it stays on the car park for two hours and we can go and do our shopping, put it on the bus and go for a coffee and then get back home again.

“It is very useful and we have had that service for more than 80 years. I am 80 and have lived in Nenthead all my life and have travelled on that bus for a very long time. It is only a 31-seater but usually there isn’t a spare seat.

“There is a Carlisle bus but that doesn’t leave until 10am and doesn’t get back until 3-30pm. We can’t possibly do without Wright Bros. We need it in our village. There are a lot of elderly people who depend on the bus.”

Mrs. Bulman added that on the day of the survey there was a big funeral in Alston attended by many regular passengers.

She said the Newcastle-Keswick summer service would also be missed. “It’s such a lovely run we don’t want to lose it,” she said.

Alan Green, chairman of Alston Moor Parish Council, said: “There is nothing left. That is all the buses we have. It’s a disaster. The buses are a lifeline for a lot of people. Anyone who does not drive can’t get off the Moor, like older people, those with bad eyesight and those who can’t afford a car. To cut them all is a drastic measure. We shall have to put up a fight.”