Hexham is a vast rural constituency where transport is essential to people’s well being. However the current government has failed to deliver an adequate transport system. Passengers are paying higher fares to travel on overcrowded and unreliable services. In many rural areas no service exists at all. Labour is committed to re-regulating buses to meet people’s needs. In addition, it will bring the railway back into public ownership, putting a cap on fares and delivering electrification throughout the country. Highways will be upgraded as will the National Cycle Network.
But in the mean time, the local Labour party is working with communities across the constituency to campaign for better services. Campaigns are needed to put pressure on local and national politicians to act in the interest of the travelling public.
Bus services – detrimental effect on local communities
Sandhoe resident Marcie Winstanley writes: “residents of Sandhoe and Stagshaw, have been without any bus service – other than school buses – for over 10 years. A long time to wait for a bus! This has had a huge impact on the local community. Many, particularly the elderly and young people who are less likely to drive, would benefit hugely from being able to use a bus. In 2015, the County Council responded to this issue by claiming that the roads that would allow a bus to pass from Oakwood to Sandhoe and Stagshaw, rather than the route that the 74 bus to Ponteland currently takes, were too narrow to make this a viable and safe route. This is not the case – the route that the bus currently takes includes roads equally as narrow, indeed this was the exact route taken by buses previously. It is also the route that school buses have used for many years.
As well as giving young and elderly residents more independence, public transport is more environmentally friendly than cars, and would allow tourists visiting Hadrian’s Wall and other hiking locations to have a means of transport directly into Hexham.
We understand that there are funding challenges facing the Council, so it is more achievable to suggest a route alteration than reinstating an additional bus service. We suggest resolving the issue by changing the route of the 74 bus between Oakwood and the Errington Arms, to include stops at Sandhoe and Stagshaw. The timetable could remain unchanged and the rest of the route would be the same as it is now.
Survey of potential users
We have collected data on potential bus usage. This shows that many people’s circumstances could change within the next few years making them dependent on a bus service. Some elderly residents have already had to move out of the area in order to maintain independence. All the people spoken to expressed a concern about isolation, whether speaking about themselves or more elderly neighbours. Whether it is age, physical or mental illness, environmental awareness or other factors that leads local people to wish to use a bus, no one should feel lonely or disconnected from their community. Having a bus service would give greater mobility to everyone in the Sandhoe and Stagshaw ward.”
Inadequate public transport – impact on health
Not everyone has access to a car at all times of the day and for some there in no access at all. Bus travel is fundamental to people’s well being. This is particularly true in the case of hospital, GP, dental and other health related visits. In Wylam and surrounding villages in the Tyne valley, the situation is likely to get worse with the application to close Wylam’s Riversdale surgery and relocate to Prudhoe being considered. As with some other areas of the constituency, public transport in East Tyndale, particularly north of the river – is inadequate.
Five buses a day run in a circular route between Ovington and Prudhoe taking in Ovingham, Wylam and Crawcrook. The service only runs between 9-30 and 2-30. Similarly Horsley has an hourly service, but this is a more complex arrangement involving a change of bus and bus company in both directions and likely to involve two sets of fares. There are no services on Sundays or public holidays. Public transport is not compatible with visiting a GP’s surgery in this area.
A return journey to Prudhoe by taxi costs approximately £25 from Horsley, £15 from Wylam and from Ovingham £10. Difficulties concerning public transport particularly impact on the elderly and carers.
We can get an idea of the numbers of people likely to be in categories where travel to Prudhoe is either impossible or difficult for reasons of health, mobility, age or financial constraint. Statistics provided by Riversdale surgery suggest that 56% of patients that use the Wylam surgery are between 19 and 65 years of age. This group is more likely to be in employment, be drivers, own their own transport and be well enough to drive to the Prudhoe surgery. But this also means that 44% of patients using Wylam Riversdale surgery, which amounts to 1372 patients, are either too young to drive or are in the later age categories where driving is less likely. 505 Wylam Riversdale patients are over 65 and a further 394 over 75. The profiles do not account for carers or people with disabilities or mental health issues who also will have difficulties in travelling to Prudhoe.
In areas like this with inadequate public transport the closure of GP surgeries means that immediate primary health care becomes difficult to access and is less likely to be sought. The identification of health problems or serious ill-health may be delayed or not identified at all at primary care level. So the first point of contact may be the emergency services. Accident and emergency, the ambulance service and more generally health and social services are reported to be seriously overstretched. Difficulty or reluctance in attending a GP surgery is likely to have a negative effect on both the health of patients and the capacity of the NHS.
Labour’s local transport campaign needs to hear from people across the constituency. We would like to know how transport in your area can be improved and to work with you to press for change in advance of the major improvements Labour will make to Britain’s failing transport system.