Councillors have voted unanimously to move ahead with the controversial sale of a Northumberland town’s bus station.
Northumberland County Council’s policy board, meeting in private, yesterday endorsed recommendations from officers that they enter into an exclusivity agreement for the sale of the authority’s interest in Hexham Bus Station.
Members 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.
The board of the Labour-run council also agreed that there will be consultation with bus operators and other key stakeholders, including Hexham Town Council, local residents and bus users about the development of the alternative facilities.
As previously reported by The Journal, a 2,000-name petition demanding the bus station remain where it is was handed in to the council in February last year.
But the authority is proposing the sale of the station to property developer Dysart, which owns some property around the site.
The plan, which the authority says would bring more people into the town centre, has been attacked by Conservative MP for Hexham Guy Opperman, county councillor for the town Cath Homer, Hexham Community Partnership and Hexham Civic Society.
A council statement issued after the meeting said: “We know that the provision of bus services is a very important issue for the residents of Hexham and surrounding areas.
“However the current bus station does not meet modern safety requirements, and we also have to consider the long-term viability and vitality of the town centre.
“We believe the bus station site can play a key role in regenerating the town centre, and linking it to the Marks & Spencer site.
“A development scheme on the site has the potential to enhance the town centre and support the regeneration of the area, including creating over 220 jobs, 150 construction jobs and injecting over £3.3m annually into the local economy through additional salary income.
“The desire to undertake the redevelopment of the existing bus station site is long standing and originated from the former Tynedale Council.”
Coun Ian Swithenbank, policy board member for streetcare and environment, added: “We are working closely with Hexham Town Council to identify suitable options for alternative bus service facilities. Once this work has been completed there will be full public consultation.
“I was very pleased that there was unanimous support from the policy board that the sale of the site should not take place until there was agreement on alternative bus facilities.”
Coun Homer last night welcomed the authority’s commitment to carry out consultation on the alternative arrangements.
She said: “I was just pleased to see the people of Hexham and surrounding Tynedale had been listened to really and Northumberland County Council were not going to plough ahead with one preferred option and they were going to look at a number of options Hexham Town Council has provided to them.
“There was an appreciation that the people of Hexham do not like their preferred option.”