MP’s battle over buses

Hartlepool MP Iain Wright.
Hartlepool MP Iain Wright.

HARTLEPOOL MP Iain Wright has re-issued an appeal for local councils to have greater control over the running of bus services.

Mr Wright wants to see a transport system in town “based not on profit but on passengers” and is calling for Hartlepool Borough Council to have more say in how services are run.

It comes after the Mail reported that locals were celebrating after Stagecoach North East agreed to reinstate two services after they were withdrawn last year amid budget cuts when the council withdrew a £287,000 subsidy.

The number 1 High Tunstall to Middlesbrough service will return to operating every half hour on Sundays and the number 7 Middlegate to Owton Manor evening service, which at present only operates on Fridays and Saturdays, will be running until 11.25pm on Sundays and weekdays, from Sunday, November 11.

Mr Wright welcomed the news, but called for transport services to be re-regulated so that local councils have more input in their running.

But Transport Minister Norman Baker said although they must not impose “unnecessary red tape on industry”, work is underway on reforms to the way buses are subsidised.

Mr Wright, who presented a petition to Whitehall last year regarding the withdrawal of bus services, said: “I think Hartlepool has got all the ingredients for a good bus service.

“But I think that the way in which bus regulation takes place now, potentially passengers miss out, so the only real way to have a proper bus service is to have it re-regulated and having some degree of control from the council.

“It’s a welcome first step but if we are going to have a proper bus service in Hartlepool we really need a co-ordinated transport approach controlled by the local authority, based not on profit but on passengers.”

But Mr Baker said: “Nearly 80 per cent of bus services outside London are commercially run and do not rely on direct funding from councils and we must take care not to impose unnecessary red tape on industry, particularly in this challenging economic environment.

“Local authorities are already able to work closely with bus companies. We are currently consulting on reforms to the way buses are subsidised and our proposed plans would allow more decisions to be taken at a local level.”

A spokeswoman for Stagecoach North East, which has re-instated the services on a “use it or lose it” trial basis, said: “We are showing our commitment to bus customers in Hartlepool by investing in these extra evening and Sunday journeys, which were cut by the local authority as a direct result of Government funding cuts.

“Therefore, it is disappointing to read a comment that suggests more regulation would improve services.”

A council spokesman said: “The council, along with neighbouring councils, recently signed up to the Tees Valley Bus Network Partnership Agreement which is resulting in councils working closely with bus operators to bring about significant improvements over the next five years.

“This includes improving passenger facilities, service improvements and giving buses more priority on our roads to encourage usage.”