Middlesbrough is determined to demolish its bus station. It should replace it with a new transport hub

A bus passes the Middlehaven redevelopment site. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

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.

 
 
 
 

What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.


Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.