Community fears over possible Carbrooke school bus cut

Deputy Parish Chair Ed Buscall and Parish Chair Debbie Harris on the possible new school footpath. P

Deputy Parish Chair Ed Buscall and Parish Chair Debbie Harris on the possible new school footpath. Picture: Matthew Usher. - Credit: Matthew Usher

A community has raised concerns over safety after it was revealed children as young as four could be forced to walk nearly four miles a day to get to and from school if a bus service is scrapped.

Norfolk County Council (NCC) is considering plans to cut the school bus which takes pupils from the Blenheim Grange estate in Carbrooke to St Peter and St Paul School on Bridge Street.

Should the bus be scrapped youngsters would have to journey through the estate, cross a main road and pass the forecourt of a mechanic's garage before heading down a small footpath and on to country roads.

The council plans include the widening of the footpath and crushed concrete put down on what is currently a mud track.

Carbrooke Parish Council chairman Debbie Muller said the plans were worrying.

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'Blenheim Grange has no facilities on site,' she said. 'We are trying to get a play area and to make it a better place to live.

'For the county to come along and pull something which is so vital is very worrying.'

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Government legislation says that councils do not need to provide free transport to school if there is a suitable walking route under two miles.

The journey from Blenheim Grange to the school is around 1.95 miles.

Ed Buscall, vice-chairman of Carbrooke Parish Council, said: 'About 100 people take the bus. Truancy is already above the national average for the school.

'It is not like it is a handful of pupils, it is 60 per cent of the school that use the bus.

'The route as it stands is not safe and you can't expect four year olds to walk two miles to school, they will arrive exhausted.'

The council has said the route would help encourage children and their parents to exercise and will mean they arrive at school ready to learn.

A NCC spokesman said: 'When the number of families in this part of Carbrooke increased, Norfolk County Council assessed the road to St Peter & St Paul Primary and decided it was not available as a walking route.

'The council therefore laid on free transport even though these families live inside the statutory walk to school distances (two miles for under eights, three miles for eight and over).

'There are now 95 children from 63 families, and the transport cost is £60,000 a year.'

The spokesman added the Government wants authorities to promote active journeys to and from school, and create savings which could be spent on other services.

The footpath, which starts by the Aerolite garage on Norwich Road and comes out on Caudle Springs and Drury Lane, will require £50,000 to improve to the necessary standard.

After that upkeep costs should be significantly below the cost to lay on the bus service.

Stan Hebborn, county councillor for Watton, said: 'As far as I am concerned this is still in the consultation phase and is not a done deal.

'There are more deep rooted issues that need to be addressed and resolved before I am comfortable in endorsing this plan.'

Parents whose children will no longer be able to use the bus service will be invited to a meeting on November 25 to discuss the issues.

Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman said he was disappointed by the plans.

He said: 'I am shocked to hear that the county council is cutting this local bus service which will mean four to five year olds walking four miles to school and back along a busy and dangerous road.'

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