RURAL transport projects worth £631,500 are being developed in North Yorkshire following a successful bid by the county council to the Government for funding.

North Yorkshire was among 46 winners of the fifth round of the Rural Bus Challenge run by the Department for Transport, which had £20m to distribute across the country.

In Upper Wensleydale, £261,000 will fund a new minibus service between Hawes and Garsdale station, on the Settle to Carlisle railway, giving people the opportunity to travel for work or for leisure.

Peak-time services will offer a link to Garsdale for commuters from Hawes and surrounding villages. At off-peak times, the minibus will serve the Hawes area on a demand responsive basis for shopping or to connect with hourly services, introduced on January 4, using new low floor buses between Hawes, Leyburn, Bedale and Northallerton.

There is a £280,500 boost for a dial-a-ride minibus service, using modern vehicles, to improve transport links to 50 settlements in remote areas around Masham, upper Nidderdale, Boroughbridge and Ripon. These have been identified as priority areas by the Harrogate rural locality transport partnership.

The money will cover the purchase and running costs for three years of two 16-seat minibuses targeted at those on low incomes, students and elderly people who need regular access to health or day care services.

At Harrogate a further £90,000 will enable the county council to introduce an information centre with extended opening hours and an improved computerised booking system. The centre will also take on the new Harrogate district car sharing scheme.

County Coun John Fort, executive member for passenger transport, said: "Good communications are vital in a rural county the size of North Yorkshire and the county council is developing a whole range of innovative projects to improve the transport network."