A COUNCILLOR hit out at his own authority’s ‘blatant disregard’ for rural wards during an outspoken speech at a parish meeting.

Joe Kelley, Liberal Democrat ward member for Hurworth on Darlington Borough Council, was speaking at the annual meeting of Hurworth Parish Council on Thursday (May 1).

He said: “It is not often, as ward councillors, we are given the opportunity to speak freely about this rural ward and its parishes.

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“On this occasion, I would like to talk about one of the biggest challenges facing the borough, being that of transport.”

The borough council removed subsidies for Arriva services to villages around Darlington as a result of budgetary pressures.

Coun Kelley added: “Since the removal of subsidies, the night-time number 12 stopped in January 2012 and the day-time number 13 stopped in January 2013, effectively isolating a lot of the rural villages.

“Darlington Borough Council is one of only three councils throughout the country to cut funding completely.

“This shows how blatant its disregard for the rural wards, where a bus service is essential for those unable to drive, either because they are too young or too old.

“It has also meant the one-car families have had to become two-car families out of necessity, which of course then has the knock-on effect of having too many cars and not enough space to put them, leading some people to park on village greens.”

Coun Kelley and colleagues were able to show the district council enough evidence of the need for rural bus services, which led to a replacement for the number 20 service being launched last September.

Council leader Bill Dixon said: "We endeavour to treat every ward the same, but some wards have different issues.

"Perhaps Coun Kelley wants to have a word with his own Government, which took away all the subsidies for rural transport."

The leader disputed Coun Kelley's claim that Darlington was one of only three councils nationally to cut funding entirely.

Coun Kelley said the replacement bus service welcomes about 1,000 passengers per month.

He added: “Unfortunately, this still does not make it sustainable. It is hoped more people will use the service over the summer.

“This will mean it has sufficient funding to see it run until September 2015, when it is hoped more funding will be found.

“In the meantime, I am trying to help set up a cycle path to connect the town safely to the villages, which will enable teenagers to safely partake in after-school activities without having to rely on their parents.

“I am also working with Stephen Metcalf, of Tees Valley Transport Brokerage, to see if we can work with groups in the ward who want access to transport at a reasonable cost.”