North East council leaders have called for the plans to close ticket offices to be halted, saying that they will have a detrimental impact on passengers, particularly elderly people and those with disabilities.

They have also said the consultation process is unfair and have branded it as “opaque and complex.”

The Joint Transport Committee, which acts on behalf of councils across the North East (Tyne and Wear, Northumberland and County Durham), has responded to the formal consultation process citing numerous concerns around the impact on local passengers and rail usage, and the complex and confusing consultation. 

At just 21 days, the committee said that the formal engagement period is ‘unduly short’ and this will impact the number of respondents, something it feels is unacceptable given the scale of the proposed closures and the impact on passengers including the elderly and people with disabilities.  

The Northern Echo: Darlington Railway Station. Picture: Sarah Caldecott, NewsquestDarlington Railway Station. Picture: Sarah Caldecott, Newsquest (Image: Sarah Caldecott, Newsquest)

Read more: 'Passenger safety not prioritised': Ticket office closure protest at Darlington

It also argues the proposals to close ticket offices in Alnmouth, Berwick-Upon-Tweed, Durham, Hexham, Morpeth, and Sunderland would mean that some ticket types will no longer be available at those stations which would have a detrimental impact on passengers.

Northern Trains is also proposing to reduce station staffing levels, which the committee says would negatively impact customer service and accessibility to stations and to disabled toilets. 

Cllr Martin Gannon, Chair of the North East Joint Transport Committee comments: “The transport committee has serious concerns about the consultation being run by train operators including Northern Trains and LNER, and we object strongly to the proposed closures to the majority of our region’s ticket offices. 

“We believe that the approach being taken is wrong, service quality is being sacrificed for financial reasons and local needs have not been taken into account.

Read more: Ticket office closures consultation set to be extended after public backlash

“Also, the process of consultation is far too complex, and lacking in information and transparency. 

“Our region is serious about transforming and investing in our public transport network to drive the use of sustainable transport including rail.

“We do not believe that penny-pinching measures are appropriate, and they go directly against our region’s ambitions to grow the rail network. 

“While we understand that the world is changing and many passengers do purchase tickets online, ticket offices provide a much wider range of supportive services than simply selling tickets.

Read more: Letters: A plea from a reader over proposed ticket office closures

“Whether providing timetable and real-time departure information, local directions and visitor information or simply reassurance and advice about the journey ahead, we believe that many millions of customer interactions each day are not captured by the 12 per cent figure of ticket sales.

“Most stations are community assets as well as travel hubs, whose appearance and facilities form part of the image and functionality of the villages, towns and cities that they are part of.

“We are pushing ahead with major investments – including a brand-new ticket office as part of the multi-million-pound redevelopment of Sunderland Railway Station that is being built as we speak. It seems bizarre to think that anyone would propose that the ticket office is closed before it has even been opened.

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“We also believe that the consultation itself is being conducted in such a way that it is very difficult for passengers to meaningfully engage with it, and the more impacted the user (for example because of a disability or other vulnerability), the less likely they are to be able to engage with the proposals and make their views heard.

“I urge the government and train operating companies to halt this consultation without delay – it isn’t fair, and the proposals are flawed.”