School steps in to help as campaigners battle to keep school bus passes for Belton and Burgh Castle pupils
PUBLISHED: 09:53 09 February 2014 | UPDATED: 09:53 09 February 2014
(C) Archant Norfolk 2013
Campaigners fighting to keep free bus passes for youngsters in rural Great Yarmouth have called for town hall leaders to pay for the tickets for the rest of the academic year.
Local Conservative members have fought with parents in Belton and Burgh Castle to retain the free bus passes that took students to and from Ormiston Venture Academy, after Norfolk County Council scrapped the subsidised tickets.
The Gorleston-based academy has stepped into the breach and agreed to cover the cost of the fares up until Easter.
But Graham Plant is set to call on Great Yarmouth Borough Council to use cash from its reserves to pay for the passes until the end of school, and then sit down with parents to thrash out a solution for the start of the September term.
Parents have been worried and angered by the county council’s decision to cut the passes, which left them facing a bill of £100 per child per term to get their children to class, before the school stepped in.
Under national government policy, children must pay for bus passes if they live within three miles of the school, unless there is no safe route to walk or cycle.
And despite objections from campaigners, county council officers have ruled the route for Belton and Burgh Castle students is safe after a new cycleway and island in the road were built.
Mr Plant said: “It’s an unsafe and unlit way to get to school, it’s down the side of a road without a footpath.
“Ormiston has stepped in and are paying for the fees up until Easter. To my way of thinking they wouldn’t have done that if they didn’t think there was an issue for the safety of the children.”
Simon Gilbert-Barnham, principal at Ormiston Venture, said the school was “very disappointed” by the decision to scrap the passes, but did not want parents to worry about the situation.
“The timeline hasn’t been ideal at all for parents, or students or the academy so we’re going to fund it up until Easter, while looking for a full-time solution.
“As an academy our primary concern is ensuring children have access here in a safe way.”
Mr Plant will be putting forward his motion at the borough council’s budget meeting later this month.
“We [as Tories] would pay the fees for the first year while we consulted with Norfolk County Council and Ormiston to find a more sustainable way forward,” he said. “By splitting it three ways, between the school, county and borough council, it reduces the burden.
“This is about sharing the pain. If there’s a way of negotiating a settlement where everybody benefits - the children, the councils, the school - I think we ought to be having those discussions.”
Mick Castle, county council cabinet member for education, said he could not make an exception for Belton and Burgh Castle pupils as the council would then have to “go back” to students in similarly affected communities and reinstate their passes, in a process that would cost millions.
Mr Castle said the decision to cut the passes was “regrettable” but unless government policy changed, or Westminster stumped up cash to cover them, the decision would remain in place.
“In a perfect world I’d love to be like America and have all the children on the bus then we’d have no issues with parking outside schools,” he added.
“But we are where we are and that’s how it is.”