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Wednesday, 16 April 2014

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Fears over impact of cuts to rural buses

FEARS have been raised that people will be trapped in their own homes if vital bus services in rural Copeland are axed.

Concerned councillors are fighting to retain under-threat subsidised routes in rural areas including Seascale, St Bees and Millom, as Cumbria County Council proposes to withdraw funding due to budget cuts.

Seascale’s Copeland councillor David Moore said: “This is an invaluable service. Without it people are going to be trapped in their own homes. They will be like prisoners in their own village.”

He said that while only a small number use the services, for many it’s their only mode of transport. People living in surrounding areas such as Holmrook, Gosforth and Ravenglass will also be affected.

The county council proposes to axe subsidies to 70 bus services to save £1.9million a year. This includes 43 day services, 17 evening and 10 on Sundays.

The council’s strategic communications adviser, Gareth Cosslett, said the loss of the county’s financial contribution to services will not necessarily mean the end of the services, as bus companies might decide to continue to run the services on a commercial basis. Community groups or other organisations may get involved. The move could result in ticket prices going up.

Mr Cosslett added: “The council no longer has the cash to provide all the services it used to and one of our proposals is to stop subsidising bus routes and concentrate on community transport solutions.”

He said numerous companies run subsidised services, some of which run at a profit while others make a loss.

Beckermet’s Copeland councillor, Yvonne Clarkson, said: “We are concerned for the people who need to use the service. We will be doing our best to retain as good a bus service as we can. However, we are mindful of the number of people using the services and if people are not using them then they are going to go.”

Couns Moore and Clarkson attended a meeting with county, district and parish councillors, bus users and Stagecoach to discuss rural services.

Coun Clarkson said that once the funding is agreed by the county council, another meeting will be held to discuss what more can be done by councillors and bus companies.

Subsidised Egremont town services and services to estates in Whitehaven would also be affected. There would be no Sunday buses to Cleator Moor and Frizington.

Most daytime routes in urban areas – and those linking larger towns – are provided without any subsidy by the likes of Stagecoach and Reays. There is no legal requirement on the county council to fund subsidised services.

If the proposals go ahead, the council will support other initiatives, such as the Rural Wheels service, to fill the gaps. The council is consulting on the proposals and will make a final decision in the New Year.

Stagecoach is urging users to respond to the consultation. It says that, if the council withdraws subsidies, it will look to operate some affected routes commercially.

The public can respond at www.cumbria.gov.uk/ourfuture before January 20. There will be drop-in sessions in Whitehaven, Egremont and Millom on January 15 and 16.

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