December 7 2013 Latest news:
Friday, September 13, 2013
Parents have vowed to cause gridlock on roads by County Hall if councillors reject a motion to save free school bus passes.
Families in Belton and Burgh Castle are campaigning against a decision that would cost their children £100 per term to catch the bus to Ormiston Venture Academy in Gorleston, or have to walk or bike just under three miles.
Despite being just within three miles of the school, so not automatically qualifying for free passes, the route along New Road and the busy A143 was previously deemed unsafe.
But county council chiefs ruled the addition of a cycle way and island in the road has made it walkable, so funding was withdrawn.
UKIP councillors have sided with the parents in objecting to the decision, and will put a motion to full council on Monday.
And parents say if the motion is rejected, they will organise a convoy of 100 cars to head to Norwich and drive round the County Hall roundabout - causing chaos when the next full council meeting takes place.
The motion, tabled by Gorleston division councillor Matthew Smith, reads: “We ask that Norfolk County Council fully maintain the level of support that it has done for many years and continue the provision of free travel for those geographical areas that have already been receiving it.”
Mr Smith said: “Those families on low and middle incomes will be asking their councillors why they must pay £100 per term per child to send their children to school, when there will continue to be children from non-working families who will receive this service for free.
“Not only does this raise issues of safety but is this council intent on making the lives of working parents even harder?”
Four UKIP county councillors attended a meeting of around 50 parents at New Road Sports Pavilion in Belton on Wednesday.
And father-of-three Lee Staff, who has been leading the campaign, outlined the parents’ strategy if councillors vote down the motion.
“The last arrow in our quiver is public protest,” he explained. “We’re going to organise a drive from Belton, through Great Yarmouth, up the Acle Straight with 100 cars, and drive round and round the County Hall roundabout.”
He said the group would coincide the protest with the next full meeting of the county council.
A protest walk along the school route with around 70 children has already been held, during which one child fainted in the heat, and then a protest drive to the school was held with 25 cars.
And parents’ frustration has been growing as individual complaints have been rejected.
He added they are concerned about the width of the cycle path, and the fact it is unlit, has no shelter and they perceive there is a risk to their children’s safety.
The final decision as to whether passes remain free will be made by Mick Castle, cabinet member for schools.
But Mr Castle said: “If the council voted overwhelmingly [in support of the motion], that would certainly have a bearing.
“It’s difficult as the national guidelines say [households within] three miles [must pay for passes], so to continue to pay willy nilly for everyone’s passes would have a big financial impact for the council.
“The cycle path is deemed to be reasonable.”
He added he does not “advocate” the protest which would “cheese off” workers commuting to Norwich.
And while he sympathised, he said: “We’re not saying everyone has got to walk or cycle.
“There will probably be another 12 or 15 schools where parents will be facing the same problems.
“Unfortunately we can’t change the national rules.”