Hexham Bus Station. Image Copyright A RoweHexham Bus Station Relocation – ‘Drop in Event’

We have been advised by Northumberland County Council that a drop-in event is to be held in Hexham at Prospect House on Friday 11 July. The NCC Press Release states:

“Residents, bus users and anyone who wants to find out more about proposals for the bus station is welcome to call in at the Council Chamber in Prospect House, Hexham at any time between 2pm and 7pm. Visitors to the event will be able to see the outcomes from a detailed appraisal of options for the future of the bus station undertaken by NCC. The eight options considered include retaining the bus station on its current site and each possible site was scored against 27 criteria under five themes of: accessibility; functionality; sustainability; safety and security; and cost.

The sites looked at are Wentworth Car Park; Maiden’s Walk; Hexham Railway Station; Loosing Hill; on-street facilities on Priestpopple; the existing bus station site; the existing bus station site plus land to the south; and land at the south-west corner of Priestpopple and Corbridge Road.

Cllr Ian Swithenbank, policy board member responsible for streetcare and environment at Northumberland County Council, is quoted as saying: “We are very keen to engage with and gain comments and feedback from as many people as possible on the options for the bus station. No decision will be made until early autumn, and only after further consultation has been completed and options further developed.

“We have been very keen to ensure that the process is fair, open and transparent and that is why we have presented the findings to the town council and local community at the earliest opportunity.”

Councillor Cath Homer, Northumberland County Councillor for Hexham East and Hexham Town Councillor added: “The future of Hexham Bus Station and its associated facilities has been a topic brought to the table by many councils over a number of years and much has been said in the press over the last twelve months.

“This is our opportunity to understand the detail of the options analysis, view potential plans for the current site and have a say on this and what we feel a modern bus station in Hexham should have by way of facilities.

“I would urge everyone in Hexham and along the Tyne Valley to come along on the day and have their say.”

Northumberland County Council presented the detailed study of options to the town council last week – and this is the first chance for members of the public to see these details.

Earlier in the day on 11th July the council has invited representatives of parish councils in West Northumberland, of bus operators and members of the business community, to provide information and engage on the process that has been undertaken and the preferred way forward”

In the meantime, a petition is being circulated to have the Bus Station retained on its present site, led by Dr Anne Pickering.

We understand that among various other locations, Dr Pickering’s petition can be signed at Oxfam, the ‘Coffee Cup’ (new café beside the bus station) ‘Pegg’s News’ on Priestpopple, ‘Cookes News’ on Milk Market, ‘Sea Chef’ fish and chip shop at  Priestlands, Hares tobacconists in Fore Steet and the Phonehouse (adjacent).

Hexham Civic Society has as yet no firm view developed on the proposed relocation and is prepared to listen to an explanation as to why the present bus station is in some way unsuitable for continued use – however, we are against this move unless it can be shown that valid reasons for the relocation outweigh what we feel are the negative impacts of the move – e.g. a less convenient location for bus users, loss of parking at Loosing Hill and importantly uncertainty over what will happen to the vacated bus station.  we are at least relieved that the ill considered Benson’s roundabout option appears to have been sidelined.

Those with keen memories may recall the assurances made county’s executive director of place, Barry Rowland in February 2014 that there would be ‘there would be full public consultation in relation to the bus station redevelopment’ – Hexham Courant Article. Whether this refers only to the post-sale development of the site, which would in any case be open to public consultation as p[art of the planning process, or whether this means genuine consultation on the 8 privately assessed options – remains to be seen.

The Civic Society’s concern over the possible loss of the central bus station facility is compounded by uncertainty as to how the vacated site would be developed. Sadly, recent experience of NCC standards at both the Rickerby/Homebase site and at the McCarthy and Stone Gilesgate flats scheme, has shown that issues such as design quality, the historic built environment  or the interests of the Hexham public come very low on the list of concerns for both NCC Officers and elected Members in the West Area Planning Committee.

In the absence of a cast iron assurance of a very high quality scheme on the vacated site, HCS is unlikely to lend its support to relocation from the present site. Hexham deserves a high quality scheme if its present bus station is to be sacrificed – not to be sold a ‘pig in a poke’ and the promise of quality from a Council that has thus far failed to deliver either general design quality or sensitive design in a historic context.

However, we are open to persuasion and will view the presentations on the 11th with interest. We urge all HCS members to attend.