Hexham general election candidates pressed on how to halt decline in rural services

Prudhoe election hustings takes place at St Mary Magdalene Parish Church
-Credit: (Image: Newcastle Chronicle)

Candidates standing at the general election have faced questions on how to protect rural areas from a loss of local services.

Several towns and villages in Northumberland have lost their last remaining bank branches in recent months, while others have seen their Post Office close. Other settlements have seen pubs and shops shut their doors for good.

At a hustings event in Prudhoe on Thursday, candidates for the Hexham constituency were quizzed on how they would prevent this widening inequality. Speaking at the event, Labour candidate Joe Morris said he would ensure his party 'could not move' without thinking of such issues.

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He added: "I have been out knocking on doors all around this constituency in this campaign. Haltwhistle doesn't have a bank, it has a lack of services. In Wark there are issues with the GP, in Otterburn there are issues getting to Bellingham on the bus because there isn't a proper service connecting the two.

"Even in Bellingham, there are massive issues around parking and the issue of holiday homes really eating into the local economy. We need MPs that will put our local communities first.

"The Conservative campaign here launched saying we need a new police station in Hexham. Anyone in Hexham and indeed in Prudhoe will tell you, frankly, we need more police on the street - we don't need to build more police stations.

"We have seen police stations close due to a lack of funding from the Conservative Party. The best way to get rid of this inequality is to get rid of the Conservative Party."

Independent candidate and farm engineer Chris Whaley added: "I have seen the gradual decline in all our public services. It has affected everyone who lives here.

"There are big problems in the countryside. The Government have got to realise that the countryside needs more money, we need the bus services, we need the doctors and the pharmacies.

"The Government has to realise that they have got to do more."

SDP candidate William Clouston, who is also the chairman of Corbridge Parish council, said: "I think this is a very long-term trend towards fewer but larger units, and that results in things like banks shutting down. It's a major problem.

"We have lost our banks in Corbridge. There's very little we can do about it as a local authority.

"One shining light for all of us is the community council level of local Government. It's very uncomplicated - you can get involved, raise taxes and do things.

"I think there is a lot of scope in that. What community councils can do is reinvigorate a very neglected type of local government.

"I'm an optimist about rural areas in this country in the long run. When you look at the state of the cities, I think a lot of people would rather live in rural areas."

Former Newcastle city councillor and Lib Dem candidate Nick Cott said: "The most important thing to say is the MP needs to be a community champion who has their finger on the pulse, is proactive and can deal with threats.

"I think working in partnership with a number of organisations, you can see what is on the horizon. One of the things I would do is to look at the future needs assessment for the area and think about what sort of services are needed and what threats might there be and how we might deal with things should they disappear.

"What would actually happen? We need to think about that.

"Policing for instance - how do we get more community police, and how do we work with police so they can do more even though their budgets are stretched?"

Conservative incumbent Guy Opperman said: "I'm extremely proud of Prudhoe. It isn't without it's problems and there are difficulties in certain areas.

"We have brought in 704 extra police officers. I want them to reopen Prudhoe and Hexham police stations.

"I also want officers to work more in our communities and not be in Gateshead and Newcastle all the time. There is a huge amount to be optimistic about in Prudhoe.

"Our glass should be half full, not half empty, because there is a huge amount to be proud of."