At the end of last year, Middlesbrough Council put in a bid for a “media and innovation village” on the west side of town. The catch? The development would be built on what is currently the bus station.
The mayor of Middlesbrough, Dave Budd, has promised that the work will only go ahead if another central site can be found for the bus station. Meanwhile on the northern edge of the centre, work has begun to redevelop Middlesbrough railway station in preparation for the return of direct trains to London in 2020.
And, just past the railway, huge tracts of former docklands sit overgrown and unused. This site, in the shadow of Middlesbrough’s famous transporter bridge, is earmarked for the Middlehaven development project. But despite ambitious plans, much of the land remains unused and in public ownership, and according to the council website no-one seems to have applied for planning permission on any of the sites near the station.
These are three disparate regeneration projects – but together they mean there’s a need for a new bus station, the political drive to create a transport hub, and land going spare in a convenient central location. The solution seems obvious – to put the new bus station next to the existing railway one. So why hasn’t the council been able to agree a new site yet?
One factor is that, as long as the Middlehaven project is ongoing, to scale it back would look like defeat, even if the project is behind schedule and appears to have stalled. Building the bus station here would require redrawing the plans – although it may also come with the advantage of making the rest of Middlehaven more attractive to developers.
Another is that the current bus station location is already a good one. It sits right in the heart of the shopping district and just a few minutes’ walk from Teesside University, on a major road with easy access to the wider UK network for long-distance coaches. Although it shows its age, its circulatory design seems to work well – plus, how many other bus stations have an on-site butchers? The one disadvantage is its distance from the railway station – no fun when you’re lugging your suitcase through the rain, rushing for your train. Still, there is probably nowhere in the town as ideally placed for a bus station.
I’m not sure it makes sense to demolish the bus station. But since the council is set on doing so anyway, they should seize the opportunity to make Middlesbrough into a proper gateway to the Tees Valley region.
Central Middlesbrough. The patch of empty land highlighted would seem to be the best site for a new bus station. Image: OpenStreetMap.
A bus station on the empty land immediately past the railway station would only be slightly further from the central shopping district than the old bus station, and it would be on the main roads through Middlesbrough and out to the surrounding towns of Teesside and beyond. The rest of Teesside, much of which currently only has hourly trains, would be better connected to the national rail network, while visitors from outside the North East would be greeted a by modern, convenient transport interchange, rather than having to follow a warren of underpasses and backstreets to their connection.
Some bus routes would have to be redirected – but if the streets of Middlehaven were wide enough for the industrial lorries of a thriving port, they should be wide enough for buses. Increased capacity for cross-town buses might ease the blow to the university from moving the bus station further away. Plus, as an added benefit, it would improve transport links to Middlesbrough College and Middlesbrough FC’s home ground, Riverside Stadium – which currently has no public transport at all.
Next Wednesday, the council will meet to discuss the demolition and rebuilding of the current bus station. They have the chance to make Middlesbrough into a transport hub for the Tees Valley region. It will be interesting to see what they do with the opportunity.
Stephen Jorgenson-Murray has strong feelings about bus stations, and tweets @stejormur.