Portlethen is a beautiful place.
It was a coastal fishing village which expanded during the oil boom due to its close proximity to Aberdeen.
The village now has over 9,000 residents with a further 300 hundred houses planned. It has a supermarket shopping complex, a swimming pool, its Green with various business, three large business parks, and two pubs. But, recently, it has been suffering from political neglect.
The bus service provided by Stagecoach, now a part-owned German company, has downgraded the village to little more than a rural backwater. There used to be three buses per hour, but that has now been reduced to one bus every hour on the key route through the village on Bruntland Road, and every two hours on a Sunday. This plan was clearly devised by someone who doesn’t use public transport.
The main bus route passes a care home, a foodbank, two primary schools, a police station, a health centre, Portlethen Academy, and the series of shops on the Green. More than half the village population is missing out on bus travel – not at all helpful when Aberdeen is looking to encourage footfall into the city.
A new bus has been introduced, which skirts the village and passes via Cove – an area, which already has a network of First Bus routes into Aberdeen. This service, to and from Stonehaven, has limited stops, and seems to change its route depending on the time of day, confusing those who try to use it.
In Union Square Bus Station, all three timetable points seem to give different departure information. When I raised this, I was told: “That’s the responsibility of the local councils.” A nice piece of buck-passing.
So, before the commercial directors of Stagecoach and Aberdeen Inspired pat themselves on the back over the introduction of late-night buses, let me tell you that there is nothing in Portlethen village which tells potential customers when these buses run, or where the route through Portlethen is, assuming it does actually run there.
There is a total lack of information, which customers are then dismissively told to search the internet for.
The trains are just as bad as the buses
Just when you thought the state of public transport couldn’t get any worse, ScotRail decided to cancel the commuter route from Inverurie to Montrose – a train route that was campaigned for over many years, taking people to school, to work, shopping and to meet others.
That commuter rail route runs from Inverurie, through Dyce, Aberdeen, Portlethen, Stonehaven, Laurencekirk and Montrose.
ScotRail, in its wisdom, has decided to return that route into the East Coast line to the Central Belt, which will considerably slow down the journey on the main route south – the principal reason the commuter route was campaigned for in the first place. This subject was well covered by my fellow P&J columnist Scott Begbie recently.
Unfortunately, Nestrans – which is a body I set up in 2001 when Labour was in power in Aberdeen city in order to look after the transport networks for the north-east – appears to be facing both ways on the issue.
Nestrans is rightly agreeing with local opinion that new, additional commuter rail stations should be opened up at Cove and Newtonhill, whilst at the same time failing to object to the ScotRail commuter changes.
There is an impression locally that no one cares, and that politicians are not pursuing the transport issues affecting Portlethen. Certainly, there is a clear lack of any joined-up action.
Soon, all these politicians will be asking for your vote
People are having difficulty in getting into Aberdeen for hospital appointments, shopping and leisure. And, if you make it to Aberdeen, it’s difficult to get home because the bus and rail timetables don’t take into consideration finishing times of the theatre, cinemas or other forms of evening entertainment. If the aim is to reduce cars coming into the city, it won’t be done this way.
It’s worth remembering that Portlethen and Newtonhill’s populations are similar to Stonehaven’s. Yet, they appear to be treated differently.
Soon, all these politicians will be asking for your vote. People need to remember who has helped them secure better transport links and who has turned a proverbial blind eye.
ScotRail is now owned by the public. Your MSP can help there.
The bus routes and timetables are arranged by Stagecoach in conjunction with Aberdeenshire Council. Your local councillor has a responsibility there.
People shouldn’t underestimate the power of the public’s voice. Elected members do so at their peril.
Len Ironside CBE is a former champion wrestler who served as an Aberdeen councillor for 35 years, with four years as council leader