CONTROVERSIAL plans to axe a cherished bus route through Northumberland are to be put on hold.
Northumberland County Council has said it will postpone a decision on the removal of the Saturday service from the Borders to Newcastle and the Metrocentre to allow it to meet people who have opposed its loss.
The authority’s change of heart was last night welcomed by one parish council in the county which set up a petition in a bid to keep the service.
As previously reported by The Journal, the authority pays towards the cost of the 710 return service, operated by Glen Valley Tours, between Kelso and the Metrocentre.
The council contributes £138 per week, which amounts to £7,200 a year.
However, it announced just before Christmas it was to withdraw the subsidy from Easter, citing the cost and the availability of other services when it is having to remove services from communities that have no other buses. The move sparked unrest in Milfield, Kirknewton, and Cornhill, with the service said to be a lifeline to residents wanting to shop or visit relatives.
The parish council at Milfield – which has no other bus service to Newcastle – set up a petition which around 140 people signed and which was sent to the county council.
Those at Wooler, Branxton and Crookham were then also said to be opposing the loss of the service. Anthony Murray, county councillor for Wooler, called for the route to be given a reprieve while consultation is carried out.
On Thursday, the authority said it would not be carrying out any consultation and that its decision stood, claiming the financial reasons for the axing still applied.
The Milfield council nevertheless vowed to continue fighting for the service and called for the county to meet Coun Murray and parishes along the route.
Now, the county council has had a change of heart.
In a statement, it said: “Northumberland County Council is to carry out a review into the decision to withdraw the 710 Kelso to Newcastle Saturday bus service.
“Any decision about the future of the service will be postponed to allow council officers to hold a meeting with residents so their views can be taken into account.
“This review will include all the comments the county council has received up to now.
“The council is very conscious of the strong and very well-expressed views of everyone who has been in touch asking for the withdrawal to be reconsidered.
“Therefore residents along the route and county and parish councillors are being contacted with information about a meeting to be held locally in the near future to discuss the bus service.
“The date and time of the meeting will be announced shortly.
“Transport will be provided for those who need it.
“In the meantime, the service will continue running exactly as at present.”
Tony Finch, chairman of the Milfield council, said: “It is good news. It is not a victory, but it gives a little bit more faith in democracy.
“We have got a chance to put our thing forward whereas before we had nothing. We just have to wait and see now.”