Hundreds of bus drivers "will not go down without a fight" and could end up on strike if Go North East pushes ahead with the closure of a major depot in County Durham.

The Northern Echo can today reveal that the first steps towards industrial action over the firm's shock decision to scrap its Chester-le-Street depot have been taken.

It comes as the firm has suffered huge backlash over plans to shut the Picktree Lane depot from workers, policiticians, businesses and members of the public, later this year.

Read more: Go North East confirms plan to close bus depot in Chester-le-Street

The firm has blamed the closure on "financial challenges," brought on by the pandemic, changes to the economy and a recent pay rise claim amid increases in the cost of living.

The Northern Echo: Picture: SARAH CALDECOTTPicture: SARAH CALDECOTT

Meanwhile, it has been suggested the depot building is currently in poor condition and will require substantial investment to keep it open.

Drivers are set to be relocated to depots in either Gateshead, Sunderland, Consett or Washington. 

Read more: Read MP Kevan Jones' letter to Go North East boss over depot closure

But last night it emerged that the firm had been served "formal" notification from Unite the Union that workers at the depot had agreed "unanimously" to fight the closure.

'The wrong decision'

One worker, who wished to remain anonymous, said: "There's been a meeting with the drivers and it has been agreed that we will resist the closure of the depot.

"There will be a ballot taking place and it could mean we work to rule or take big strike action if the company doesn't reverse its decision.

"Everyone's lives are being turned upside down by this, families, friends and everyone is impacted by this and it's the wrong decision being made."

A meeting between drivers and union officials took place last Sunday which saw all those in attendance agree to start proceedings for industrial action.

The Northern Echo: Picture: GO NORTH EASTPicture: GO NORTH EAST

What the letter said

In a letter to the company from Unite the Union following this meeting, which was seen by The Echo, it said union "members" failed to agree with the following:

- the proposed closure of the depot

- proposed permanent transfer of members to other depots

- proposed transfer of services to other depots

- and the "long term neglect" of building maintainance over "many decades"

It went on to say that drivers had instructed Unite to:

- resist the closure of the depot

- resist the forced permanent transfer to other depots

- resist the transfer of work to other depots without agreement

- and to demand investment in the maintenance and upkeep of the depot

It added that it would "welcome urgent meaningful discussions to keep Chester-le-Street operational in its current form."

Explaining that the workforce "didn't want to go without a fight," another worker, who also wished to remain amonymous, said they believed this is the only way.

They said: "We're not having a go at the public, we don't want to disrupt their travel arrangements but we need to make the company sit up and take notice."

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Unite previously accused the firm of allowing the depot, which is more than 100 years old, of falling into disrepair, while drivers have previously raised questions over the timing.

Meanwhile, North Durham MP Kevan Jones raised grave concerns over the impact on the more than 200 staff members and wider economical impact to Chester-le-Street.

What Go North East has said

In response, Go North East said discussions are still ongoing following its decision to close the depot down.

A spokesperson said: "We are still in talks with Unite the Union over arrangements for the depot move.

"We re-confirm there will be no driver or workshop engineer redundancies or any disruption to service as a result of the depot move, which is planned for September."

In a memo to staff, Go North East has previously refuted any suggestions the depot has been deliberately run down, saying there has been no underinvestment in the site.

Unite the Union did not add anything further when approached for comment by The Northern Echo.

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