Green light for return of late evening service

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Three local authorities are teaming up to bring back a late evening bus service to Newcastle at the weekend.

In the autumn, as part of its need to make savings, Northumberland County Council introduced changes following a reduction of £200,000 to its bus subsidy budget.

One of those axed was the number 74 service on Friday and Saturday evenings, one at 9pm and one at 11pm. This change came into effect at the beginning of December.

The service goes through Matfen, Stamfordham and Ponteland (including Medburn and Darras Hall).

Concerns were raised by residents and Ponteland West county councillor Veronica Jones facilitated talks between the county authority, Ponteland Town Council and the parish councils in the area to see if something could be done.

The county council then issued a tender and at a recent meeting, the town council agreed following a vote to commit between £3,500 and £4,000 to run two return trips from Matfen to Newcastle via Ponteland and Stamfordham each Saturday evening over a 12-month period.

Coun Robin Ramsay, who represents the town council on the Ponteland Bus Users’ Group, said it was his understanding that Stamfordham and Matfen Parish Councils had agreed to make a contribution towards the reinstatement of this service.

As for the Ponteland funding, some of the money will be chargeable in the current financial year and the rest will be allocated in 2016/17.

He added: “The new subsidy criteria for the county council focused on daytime services and so quite a few evening services have been affected.

“We believe that we should retain a late evening service for the 74 on a weekend day for the moment and we have looked into what is required for the subsidy.

“However, given the sums involved, the recommendation is for one year only with no obligation to continue it. We will review the situation towards the end of this period.”

Go North East will be the provider and both the company and the county council have agreed to assist with the promotion of this particular service.

Coun Jones said: “During the discussions with fellow county councillors and officers, I argued that not all work shifts are nine to five and students in rural areas with poor internet speeds will need to get a bus into Newcastle or a town to go online for their studies.”

“I’m pleased that a subsidy is in place for the 74 on Saturdays so people from Ponteland, Stamfordham and Matfen can go into Newcastle in the evening for whatever reason.

“I hope this service is well used so it can be in place for longer than 12 months.”

Resident Richard Bell spoke during the public questions session and he showed councillors a petition with dozens of signatures calling for a late evening service to be reinstated.

He said this would also encourage people from parts of Newcastle to frequent the restaurants and pubs in Ponteland.

He suggested extending the X78 service on a Saturday, but was happy for the number 74 to do the journeys when he was told by Mayor Carl Rawlings that a subsidy proposal for this service would be discussed later in the meeting.