STUDENTS have weighed in to the long-running debate on the future of a town centre bus station site.
It is hoped the closure of the bus station in Priestpopple in Hexham and its redevelopment would boost the town centre and attract more people.
Urban design students from Newcastle University were asked to come up with proposals for the bus station and surrounding sites, including Robbs store which is to close after parent company Vergo Retail Ltd crashed.
Northumberland County Council has signed an agreement with Dysart Developments which allows the company a year in which to come up with a scheme for the bus station site, and to work towards submitting a plan.
This work will include carrying out consultation with local residents, organisations and businesses.
Cameron Scott, council regeneration manager for West Northumberland, said: “The scheme will be centred around the existing bus station site and it is anticipated that it will provide retail and housing on the site, along with improved links to the Marks & Spencer store on Maiden’s Walk.
“It will also be required to address bus access and it is envisaged that routes will continue to pick up and drop off passengers in the centre of town.”
The council’s regeneration, highways and planning teams are all involved in discussions on the proposals and a project group includes representatives of Hexham Town Council and Hexham Community Partnership.
Hexham Civic Society has also organised an exhibition of the students’ plans which will open tomorrow at the Forum cinema until May 21.
The students’ ideas include giving priority to people over vehicles, creating a pleasant walking route linking the main shopping area with the M&S car park, along with artists’ workshops, cafes and homes.
“The students have produced proposals that are worthy of taking forward for detailed development,” said Georgia Giannopoulou, MA urban design degree programme director at the university.
After approaches by Hexham Civic Society, the students were asked to visit the town and suggest improvements.
“The bus station is not maximising the site’s potential for the town centre, nor is it the ideal site for such a use due to its confined nature,” said Miss Giannopoulou.
“This could be a fantastic opportunity for Hexham to revitalise its image. It’s a desirable place to live but the high street is looking run down.”
The students have been working on the project with urban designer Roger Higgins, a Newcastle University graduate who is now part of Carlisle Renaissance.
He said: “This is a complex and sensitive site at the heart of a fine-grained, historic market town.
“While the council initially looked to develop just the bus station site, we helped create a brief which asked students to look at the wider picture and to think about using the site to bring about a broader set of improvements.
“I understand that following this project, the council is now taking a much broader approach and hopefully will come up with a real-life solution as sensitive and imaginative as the students have put forward.”
Civic society chairman Tim Tatman said that a priority was to draw shoppers from supermarkets on the edge of the town centre into the core to support smaller shops there.
“The bus station has been there since the 1930s but bus operators say the site is not now big enough to operate safely and facilities are also poor,” he said.