Transport minister Norman Baker urged to ‘hop on’ Norfolk’s treasured Coasthopper bus

Norfolk Green managing director Ben Colson on the Coasthopper bus.

Norfolk Green managing director Ben Colson on the Coasthopper bus.

Archant © 2009

A government minister will be invited to take a trip on a coastal bus service as campaigners try to save it from looming cuts.

Transport minister Norman Baker will be asked to visit north Norfolk and board the Coasthopper, a popular hop-on, hop-off service that is on the brink of cutting its timetable.

The service, run by Norfolk Green and operating along the coast from King’s Lynn to Cromer, is under pressure from funding cuts and a drop in government fuel tax subsidies.

It is also being hit hard by the concessionary bus scheme, with 70pc of its peak-season passengers getting free travel - a loss that cannot be recouped in full.

The problems are exacerbated by a £4.5m shortfall in government funding to Norfolk County Council, since administration of the concessionary fares moved to County Hall from district councils.

On Tuesday, Oddfellows Hall in Sheringham hosted a meeting, chaired by North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb and attended by representatives from Norfolk Green, Norfolk County Council, plus councillors from wards along the route.

After an hour-long discussion, it was agreed that a delegation would travel to London to meet Mr Baker and invite him to use the Coasthopper service to understand its importance.

And, after a straw poll, a majority of attendees said they wanted a change to the concessionary travel scheme to make people from outside Norfolk pay half fare, rather than nothing, when using bus services in the county.

After the meeting, Mr Lamb said: “It’s about fairness to Norfolk. Does it make sense that quite well off people are coming to Norfolk and getting transport for free?

He added: “People love the Coasthopper, and it must be possible for a service that is so popular to also be sustainable.”

Ben Colson, managing director of Norfolk Green, said: “There are a number of issues which all come into sharp focus next year.

“A lot of the issues are national, not local. It’s a question of trying to find a way of unlocking things.”

He added: “The more the funding shortfall grows, the more difficult it will be to run the current level of service.

“If you run fewer buses, more people get left behind. And if more people get left behind, with the buses largely full, it has a knock-on effect. Then it destroys the value of the service for everybody.

“From next year, we will be struggling to keep it as a half-hourly service.”

Tracey Jessop, assistant director of travel and transport at Norfolk County Council, said: “It’s been really helpful to raise awareness of how things are run.

“It’s a highly popular service, of great value to community and a great tourist attraction that still takes a significant amount of council funding to run.

“That’s unlikely to change because of the complications of the government’s transport policies.”

She added that the council was under “great pressure” over concessionary fares, which was a compulsory service.

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