RURAL communities in the region are to benefit from a £2.3m public transport boost.

Transport Minister John Spellar will today pledge cash for six projects as part of a £20m nationwide programme to establish new bus schemes.

In County Durham, the Healthy Response project will receive a £743,000 grant. The scheme aims to improve access to healthcare across the county and will also co-ordinate other community travel schemes.

Three projects in North Yorkshire will share more than £500,000.

A grant of £216,000 will go on a minibus in Richmondshire, connecting Hawes to Garsdale Station, in Cumbria. It will also be available to surrounding villages at off-peak times.

The Rural Dial-a-Ride scheme in the Harrogate area will receive £280,500, which will pay for two 16-seater minibuses and drivers' salaries for the next three years. It will serve low-income groups who cannot afford taxis, in about 50 villages.

The Harrogate Information Centre for Community Transport, a rural transport broker for North Yorkshire, will receive £90,000.

In the Stockton area, residents will get a £360,000 village bus project.

The grant will provide a service for three years, linking Stillington and seven villages to Sedgefield and Billingham.

A £721,216 grant to Tyne and Wear transport operator Nexus will go on the Ryton interchange, on the outskirts of Gateshead.

It will maintain the interchange for the next two years, including its security camera system and toilets.

Some of the cash will also go on keeping bus routes running between Ryton and Crawcrook.