A House of Lords Select Committee released a comprehensive report last week on the regeneration of seaside towns and communities. It was released after a year long investigation into the state of our coastal communities like Hartlepool and concluded that they have been neglected for far too long, with money from successive Governments being directed towards big towns and cities at their expense. However, with the right investment, they can be rejuvenated and once again become prosperous and desirable places to live and work. The report also reflects the strong desires, resilience and aspirations of places like ours and the robustness of the people. It says many seaside towns are in desperate need of improvements to housing, transport and broadband internet as well as job opportunities and business growth. I agree entirely on all counts. Places like Dalton Piercey and Bishop Cuthbert do suffer from shocking broadband reception, new affordable housing is woefully inadequate and we do need more jobs and better inward investment. Our public transport infrastructure in particular needs to be addressed, particularly our bus services, which, like everywhere else in the country, appear to be diminishing.
Back in the day there were not only plenty of buses in the Town but also the Hartlepool Electric Tramway, which operated between 1899 and 1927. I’ve heard many stories about the rivalry between the West Hartlepool Corporation Bus fleet and the Hartlepool Corporation Blue Buses before the amalgamation of the Hartlepool’s. When you consider the current changes being made to the A689 between the Tesco roundabout and Victoria Road it’s tempting to think that, with a little bit of imagination and a rethink of our transport needs from the Government, the Metro Mayor and the Tees Valley Combined Authority, there could easily be a tram line running down that new central reservation. As you see in plenty of other European countries, it could be part of a light railway connecting Hartlepool with the rest of the Tees Valley; a concept which has been under serious discussion for years now in light of the success of the Metro system further north. Wouldn’t it be good to see tram’s back on our historic streets? Perhaps as a downward extension of the Metro from its new route into Durham rather than a new project of expansion upwards from Darlington?
As distant a concept that might seem right now, going back to the Lords Report, why can’t coastal areas like ours benefit from such big ideas and investment like the tramways skipping in and out of Greater Manchester or Edinburgh? They certainly would improve connectivity and bring people in. Coming back down to earth we are clearly right now a million miles away from that kind of idea becoming a reality anytime soon. What we do need to do is look at improving the existing public transport infrastructure we have.
We are are a town with a bus terminus which can boast as many buses using it as airplanes currently flying out of Durham Tees Valley Airport. We have an inadequate number of taxi’s adapted for taking disabled passengers and rural communities are practically cut off because of a lack of public transport. Thankfully we do have a train station with routes to Carlisle, London, Middlesbrough, Newcastle and York but so many other destinations could be accessed with the right ambition and thinking. That’s why this week I have signed a cross party letter to the Chancellor from Northern MP’s calling for a fairer deal for the North when it comes to investment in our transport infrastructure and have contributed to Labour’s policy development on the future running of bus services.
Rightly so, we need to look at how public transport can work for the people rather than work for the profits of the shareholders exclusively. Far too many routes are being axed leading to communities reliant on public transport being cut off and left isolated. Guaranteeing concessionary bus and travel passes is important for our elderly and young people; reviewing franchises and allowing council’s to run new municipal bus companies will guarantee vital public transport links are maintained and more importantly improved upon.