LOCAL transport connections play a vital role in providing community infrastructure which help shops, businesses and public services survive.

As such, the Campaign for Rural England has called for a new rural transport fund to get isolated communities connected.

Chris Hinchliff, policy and campaigns Officer, said: “Wherever we live and whatever our personal circumstances, we all deserve to be able to get to work and to places to socialise and reach local services like our GP easily.

“Making sure that we can all reliably and affordably reach the facilities that we need is a basic part of living in a fair society.”

The countryside charity has undertaken research, working with the Campaign for Better Transport, into how well connected our rural communities are. It shows that outside England’s major cities, communities are being left in ever-expanding ‘transport deserts’ with inadequate bus and train connections.

The phrase ‘transport desert’ describes communities which lack public transport options for residents to be able to travel conveniently on a day-to-day basis without needing to drive.

The report reveals that more than half of small towns in the North-East of England are already transport deserts, or are at serious risk of becoming one.

Hexham and Prudhoe are among the best connected settlements in Northumberland scoring 16 and 15 respectively.

However, Ponteland was rated one of the lowest with a score of seven.

The point scoring system has been developed to compare the transport performance of settlements and small towns.

Points are allocated to settlements based on their bus, rail and other transport offer.

A lack of good rural public transport has huge knock-on effects on these villages and towns.

In Byrness, bus users have complained about being left out in the cold due to an inadequate service.

Last year, people accessing the 885 Byrness to Hexham bus raised concerns that a 16-seater vehicle sent by bus company PCL Travel, on behalf of operators Northumberland County Council, had prevented regulars from travelling as all could not fit on the minibus.

The charity said it wanted the government to invest more money in rural transport, set ambitious targets for the proportion of people living within walking distance of a bus stop and reopen rural railways across the country.

There have been some examples of local people coming up with their own, innovative solutions, such as coming together to provide volunteer-based options like community minibuses.

In Gilsland, a transport service has been launched to connect residents with local amenities and attractions.

Go Gilsland and the Tyne Valley Community Rail Partnership have combined to create a new demand-led service and purchase a ‘G-Gaxy’ electric car, with the capacity to carry four passengers and their luggage. The new service will help public transport users connect with existing bus services and trains as well as visiting the numerous attractions in the area.

The government is committed to improving rural transport after it announced a £5bn cash injection to overhaul bus and cycle links in English regions outside London. The five-year funding package will provide more frequent services and simpler, more affordable fares and allow for new priority bus routes and the purchase of at least 4,000 zero-emission buses.