Opponents of plans to move a Northumberland town’s bus station made a show of strength at a demonstration.
Around 40 Hexham residents, many elderly users of the facility, and traders marched through the town carrying placards in protest at Northumberland County Council’s plans to sell its station and create a replacement elsewhere.
The council agreed in February to enter into an exclusivity agreement for the sale of its interest in the bus station to property developer Dysart, despite a 2,500 signature petition demanding it be retained having been mounted in 2011.
The company, which owns property around the site, would develop flats with bus stops to be created on Priestpopple.
The council also approved, in principal, the relocation of the existing bus facilities – with an agreement that the site will not be sold or passed over to the developer until the alternative provision has been developed.
A survey was organised in which 4,000 people took part, with the result that more than 95% favoured keeping the bus station where it was.
In June, the authority announced the results of a study it had commissioned into eight possible options for the development of a new station put forward by Hexham Town Council.
The county council named Loosing Hill its preferred location and said plans would be drawn up. A consultation event was organised for July.
A further exhibition of all eight options is taking place in the town this week, while further consultation work is also being carried out.
To coincide with the exhibition, around 40 residents - many elderly users of the station - and traders marched from the bus station to the Queen’s Hall venue, armed with placards, in a show of opposition to the sale and relocation.
Organiser Dr Anne Pickering, who lives in a property at nearby Oakwood, which was built by Harry Darlington – the man who built the bus station in 1938 - described the turnout as “fantastic.”
The former town councillor said: “We want to keep our bus station site. We want a bit more transparency from the county council and our local council and we want to be kept informed.
“And we definitely want our bus station on that current site, expanded the site will have to be, but not taking it away from us.”
Among those taking part was pensioner Patricia Clark who said: “At over eighty I think it is important that the bus station should be as near as possible to the banks and post office.
“I would find it very difficult to push a trolley that extra distance to Loosing Hill.”
Trader Janine Armstrong, from Ashley Matthews jewellers, voiced fears that the plans would impact on business.
“Absolutely because they have said 18 to 20 months to build a new bus station and another 18 to 24 to do the development on the old bus station site.
“Which means nearly four years of disruption.”
A Northumberland County council spokesman said: “We took the opportunity to speak with the protesters who came along about the proposals, and we hope this gathering didn’t deter anyone from coming to the exhibition to find out for themselves the eight options that are being investigated.
“It’s important to stress that as well as those against the proposals we have had people in to see the exhibition who are very supportive.
“We will be carrying out further engagement work and are particularly keen to hear the views of the people who use and rely on the bus service and we will be talking to parish and town councils across West Northumberland.
“The exhibition remains open for the next two days, Thursday 10am – 5pm and Friday 9am - 7.30pm.”