WHEN plans were unveiled for a new bus station in Hexham back in 2015, they were met with fierce opposition.

A petition against the proposals, led by the late Dr Anne Pickering, yielded 10,000 signatures.

While a change in location - from central Priestpopple to Loosing Hill - was a prime concern for many, there was an affection among the public for retaining the old site.

And why wouldn’t there be? The 1930s art deco building had been at the heart of the town for 80 years, and was once an attractive centrepiece of the townscape.

There was a crumb of comfort for the objectors, however, for moving the bus station was set to make way for a much needed economic boost for Hexham.

Developer Dysart had big plans for a multi-million pound project to bring retail and accommodation to the old site.

But after closing in 2016, the original bus station remained eerily empty. For a short while afterwards, its notoriously unreliable clock face began telling the time accurately, but nothing else was happening on site.

Amid delays with the scheme, Northumberland County Council struck a deal with Dysart in November 2017, to use the back of the site to provide much needed public car parking.

There was still no sign of support from retailers for Dysart’s grand plan, and in 2018, the county council confirmed it was in negotiations with the developer to buy back the land.

The appearance of a ‘for sale’ sign, last week, coupled with news that both parties had failed to agree terms, marked four years of inactivity at a site which has been largely abandoned.

The moss on the iconic sloped roof of the once proud example of 1930s architecture has grown thicker, and the boarded up appearance of this neglected relic has led to the old bus station being branded a blight on the town.

There is no doubt that the site can be restored and improved, but the failure of the original scheme has done nothing but waste four years of opportunity.

The decommissioning of the former transport hub and subsequent inactivity has also come during and era which has seen several of Hexham’s prime sites out of use.

A key selling point in terms of tourism is the town’s rich history, and the 7th century Abbey, the old gaol, and other historical gems, will always attract visitors.

But the general appearance of any town, and its high street offering, are paramount to economic wellbeing.

The prominent former bus station site is just across the road from the town’s main department store, Beales, formerly Robb’s, which closed in February after years of speculation over its future, joining a growing list of empty shops in the town centre.

Much can be done with the old bus station site and at Beales to bring them back into use. Other key locations, including the former swimming pool, Prospect House, and the old workhouse site, are all currently undergoing refurbishment.

Hexham’s many independent traders, who have done a superb job in opening up Hexham since lockdown restrictions were lifted in July, deserve investment in key sites to give people every reason to visit the town.

Many possible future uses have been debated for the old bus station. But whatever it becomes, an injection of new life will be far better for Hexham than a derelict, decaying and depressing shell of a bygone era.