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Saturday, 25 October 2014

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Concern over rural areas if bus routes axed

CONCERNED councillors claim vulnerable bus users will be “prisoners in their own home” after cuts to subsidised bus routes in Copeland were agreed.

Cumbria County Council supports 70 bus routes with subsidies across the county, which it plans to phase out over the next 12 months to save £1.3m a year.

In Copeland, the bus routes affected include Gosforth, Seascale and Muncaster.

Copeland councillor Eileen Eastwood, for Seascale, said: “It’s the vulnerable people in rural areas that are being affected – and it’s not fair that they are being treated like this.

“People are being made to feel like prisoners in their own home.”

She said Seascale has a post office, doctors and the dispensing chemist for surrounding areas of Drigg, Holmrook and Muncaster. A lack of bus service will make it difficult for people to use these services.

County councillors Keith Hitchen, for Millom Without, and Norman Clarkson, for Gosforth, say they are unhappy about subsided bus services being axed, but they will use the time they have while the cuts are being phased in to look at alternative transport options.

Coun Hitchen said a South Copeland partnership – made up of parish councils and Millom Town Council – met recently. From that, a voluntary group has been launched to research what the needs of the community are and what options are available.

He said: “It will identify what the needs are, are what options we have. We want to overcome the difficulties that we face rather than not doing anything.”

It is understood the South Copeland Partnership will be working with the Mid-Copeland Partnership to share ideas and possible solutions.

Coun Clarkson said it will be the elderly, unwell and vulnerable who will be affected most.

“We are going to have to rely on a lot of good will from neighbours – I hope that does happen,” he said.

He is calling on people to lend a hand to those who will be affected to help them get their shopping and to appointments or social events.

He said there may be the availability of micro-buses but volunteers will be needed to drive them.

The county council is setting aside £1million to help it phase in its proposed reductions for the subsidised bus routes and home to school/college transport for those aged over 16, which will also be affected.

Keith Little, the county council’s Cabinet member responsible for transport, said: “I’m sure all county councillors would love to be in a position to say ‘we won’t make the cuts and we’re saving your services’ – but we just can’t do that.

“When we’re losing one pound in every four from Government, some non-statutory services are going to stop.

“What we can do is buy ourselves a little more time to explore all alternatives and hopefully come up with some innovative solutions by working with local partners and I think we have done this.

“These are difficult decisions to make, but hopefully a ‘can do’ approach is going to see some alternative provision which will be more sustainable in the long term.”

Cabinet has agreed to cease to procure subsidised home-to-school transport for new over 16 students from this September, although travel for existing students will be protected until the end of their course. The council’s existing hardship fund, which is provided to families on low incomes, will continue to be maintained.

The council says it will invest in proactively working with schools and colleges so they can set up their own arrangements directly with bus companies and where possible help schools utilise any spare capacity under the council’s existing spare seats scheme.

Bus-user 20-year-old Dan Dixon, from Cleator Moor, said: “I use the bus once a day and at weekends I use the bus to watch football and rugby matches, if the service is reduced I wouldn’t be able to go or catch up with friends.

“When I was at college, I used the subsidised service and even if it wont be lost for a while it is still going to upset people who need it.”

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