THE Tees Valley transport boss has spoken of his determination to improve public transport links across the area.

Darlington Borough Council leader Councillor Stephen Harker said action to improve bus services was necessary as it was simpler to get to the Tees Valley than travel inside the area.

He said a major thrust of the Tees Valley Combined Authority (TCVA) Investment Plan would see concerted efforts to improve employment opportunities and people’s ability to get to work.

The Labour member said while a lot of publicity had been given to the move to take Durham Tees Valley Airport back into public ownership, other transport elements of the £600m TCVA plan had potential to trigger profound economic and social change.

Cllr Harker, who is TVCA’s transport portfolio holder, told a full meeting of the borough council while he supported the changes at the airport, many residents would benefit more from improved bus networks.

He said: “As ever with such things, the big schemes tend to be focused on. So much has been said about big schemes such as Darlington Railway Station, the Northern Relief Road, the second Tees crossing, improvements to Middleton Station.

“What we shouldn’t forget are some of the things that tend to be talked about less.

“A lot of money is going to be spent on improving public transport such as the bus networks.”

Cllr Harker said he had heard numerous accounts of how people applied for apprenticeships on the basis of where they are able to get to.

He said travelling from Hartlepool to Darlington on a daily basis with the current transport infrastructure was “almost impossible” without access to a car.

He said: “Ironically is fairly easy to get to the Tees Valley, but communications within the Tees Valley is often very difficult.

“There’s an awful lot more money being spent than just the airport. Over the next ten years the combined authority will be spending just under £600m in terms of investment into the Tees Valley.”

Conservative member Councillor Doris Jones then accused Cllr Harker of “talking about the airport as though it was irrelevant to the Tees Valley area” and that businesses had been delighted by recent changes.

She said: “I am disgusted that you do not appreciate just how much the people of Darlington need this airport, want this airport and have pushed for this airport.”