Decision to press ahead with Norfolk free bus travel axe
15:35 06 January 2014
Moves to take away free bus travel where pupils live within three miles of a school is to continue, after councillors decided to press ahead with the controversial policy.
Norfolk County Council has to provide free school transport to children attending their catchment or nearest appropriate school if they live over the qualifying distance of two miles for youngsters aged under eight and three miles for children aged eight and above.
But the council also has to provide free transport if the child lives within that distance, but there is not a route to school assessed as being safe for them to walk.
The council spends £2m a year on such free transport for 2,240 children, but regularly re-assesses walking routes and takes away free bus passes if changes, such as new pavements, mean the route is deemed safe.
One of the proposals put forward under the Putting People First consultations, to plug a £189m funding gap over the next three years, is to accelerate the programme of reviewing the routes to save money.
But it has sparked anger, particularly in Belton and Burgh Castle, where families of children at Gorleston’s Ormiston Academy who live within three miles of the school have been told they will be losing their free bus travel.
A motion passed by the county council in September called on the controlling Labour and Liberal Democrat cabinet to think again.
The cabinet asked for officers to carry out a review of the policy and, at a meeting today, were presented with the results.
Officers said the policy of reassessments was applied consistently and was fair and cabinet members agreed to continue with it.
Mick Castle, cabinet member for schools, who last August was taken on a route through farmer’s fields by Somerton parents whose children face losing their free bus passes, said: “This report sets out things as they are and I wouldn’t disagree with it. As walkways become fit for purpose, the council is not going to provide free transport.”
But Matthew Smith, UK Independence Party councillor for Gorleston St Andrews, who had put forward a motion on the issue in September, said: “We are very disappointed because we had a vote at council that it was not the way forward and this shows George Nobbs [council leader] and his cabinet are prepared to ignore what people want.”
And Brandon Lewis, Great Yarmouth Conservative MP said the decision was “short-sighted”.
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