HUNDREDS of villagers claim they have been cut off after a bus company cut services.

Rural communities have launched campaigns demanding their buses are reinstated, after sweeping timetable changes by operator Go North East.

The company introduced revised routes in August, leaving some villages in the Stanley area without a direct bus link to Newcastle.

Regular commuters also claim the replacement services are often cancelled without notice.

Lynn Castrey and Deborah Christie, who both live in Quaking Houses, work in Newcastle for the NHS. They now have to get a bus in to Stanley and change at Mary Street station to get to their jobs.

"It is regularly taking me three hours to get to work, for what used to be a 30 minute journey," said Mrs Castrey.

They have typed a complaint letter and are handing copies out to fellow commuters to sign and send in.

The direct service from Tanfield to Tyneside has also gone, leaving residents with just one bus an hour to nearby Stanley, where they have to change.

Villager Robin Waugh, 63, said: "The elderly are badly affected and people can't get to work."

Parents in Harelaw say children using the bus to get to school or college in Newcastle are often late.

Pat Moody, who has a son and daughter at Newcastle College, said: "My daughter has been left stranded after dark more than once and this is unacceptable for a 16-year-old girl."

In Dipton, 540 people signed a petition demanding the return of the old bus system.

North Durham MP Kevan Jones plans to raise the matter in Parliament, and has requested a meeting with Go North East bosses.

"There are serious economic implications," he said. "People in north Durham have to be able to get to work. This should not simply be a commercial decision by the bus companies. The Government should step in to make sure the buses run where they are needed."

Martin Harris, Go North East commercial director, the said timetable changes were to implement a simpler, direct Newcastle service from Stanley bus station.

He said: "We did this after a lot of thought and a lot of involvement with the local communities and Durham County Council.

"We share passengers concerns about the impact of what is a national shortage of bus drivers and are taking measures to address it."