‘They are putting our children’s lives at risk to save themselves a few pounds’ - families told it is safe to walk unlit rural road in Burgh Castle
09:54 04 July 2014
Parents have accused the county council of putting children’s lives at risk after telling them an unlit rural road with no path was safe enough for them to walk to school on.
The impact of Norfolk County Council’s controversial cut to free school bus passes continued this week, with families in Burgh Castle voicing anger that children as young as four were expected to walk on narrow rural roads, around a sharp bend and through a supermarket car park to get to Moorlands CE Primary Academy in Belton.
From September, half a dozen children who currently catch a free minibus to school will have to pay £70 per term for a pass, rely on lifts or face what parents are describing as a dangerous walk, because their route to school is under two miles.
Nik Dean, whose daughter Gracie, aged seven, and son Luka, two, are affected, said: “They are putting our children’s lives at risk to save themselves a few pounds.
“They’re forcing us into a corner because they know we’re not going to let our children walk that route. It’s unlit, it’s dangerous.”
Last year, the county council installed a concrete platform at a bus stop on Coronation Terrace in Burgh Castle - part of the route the children are expected to walk.
The parents believe it was installed because standing on the grass verge was deemed unsafe. But now, they are told they can walk along those verges with the children, some of whom will be in buggies.
Stuart and Nicky Meredith who live on Coronation Terrace with twins Crystal-Rose and Emma-Louise, 10, said it is an accident waiting to happen.
Two years ago Nicky, 36, stopped walking the girls to Moorlands after they were almost hit by a passing truck.
“I called the council and they told me the children should get the bus to school,” she said.
“If a bus and car or a caravan come down this road there is no where for you to go to get out of the way. The verge they’re expecting us to walk on is crumbling - and that’s in summer. Imagine what it’s going to be like in winter when it’s pouring with rain or it’s been snowing.”
Nik, 49, a teacher at East Norfolk Sixth Form College, accused the council of “moving the goalposts” when it comes to classifying what constitues a safe route and plans to appeal - but having seen what happened to Ormiston Venture Academy and Flegg High School students, his wife Lisa, 41, is not sure they can win the fight.
A county council spokesman said: “We have been contacted by two of the parents involved. We consider all information concerning school transport and in this instance the decision is currently going through the county council’s appeals process.”
While the council has an obligation to provide free transport to children if they live over two miles (if aged under eight) or three miles (if over eight) from their nearest school, it must do the same for children living closer if the route is not deemed safe
The Home to School and College Transport Policy sets out what makes a route “unavailable”. Criteria includes lack of footpath and a traffic count of more than 240 vehicles per hour.
The council reguarly reassesses the safety of walking routes, but accelerated the review programme in January to help plug a £189m funding gap.
School children going to Ormiston in Gorleston and youngsters from Somerton going to Flegg in Martham have already been affected by the removal of free passes.