Concerns over free school transport in Norfolk as Stalham pupils told they no longer qualify

Norfolk County Council is consulting on removing free school transport for children in Catfield and

Norfolk County Council is consulting on removing free school transport for children in Catfield and Hickling who go to Stalham High and Stalham Academy. The Whiting family were one of those set to be affected. Picture: James Bass - Credit: James Bass

Fears have been raised about the future of free school transport as a community today prepares to fight plans to take away their children's bus passes.

The proposals to reclassify walking routes between two villages and Stalham are part of an ongoing county-wide effort to cut Norfolk County Council's annual £26.3m home to school transport bill.

By law, children who live within two or three miles of their school, depending on their age, are entitled to free school transport if there is no 'available walking route'.

In a letter to some parents in Catfield and Hickling, the council said it is 'currently reviewing all unavailable school walking routes', which could see some other routes across Norfolk that were previously deemed unsafe redefined as safe, and no longer eligible for a bus pass.

Suffolk County Council said it assessed unsafe routes 'as part of our ongoing processes', but was not looking into 'any particular piece of work on this at the moment'.

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Norfolk County Council said the walking route from Catfield to Stalham would be 'available' once it had installed a central refuge that would help children cross the A149, and an alternative route for children walking from Hickling meant there was no longer a need for free bus passes.

However, campaigners will use this afternoon's meeting with council officials to argue the routes are not safe.

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Darren Patrick, whose 14-year-old son Dylan travels from Catfield to Stalham High, said dips in the road made it difficult to see oncoming traffic, and added: 'The main concern is there's no footpath for most of the journey, and there are not many grass verges, and they have to go through a busy industrial estate.'

In a letter to Michael Rosen, the executive director of children's services, North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, said: 'To suggest a seven year old is safe walking along this route every school day including in midwinter I find impossible to accept.'

Communities already affected since the review was approved two years ago include Happisburgh and Carbooke, and one Hickling parent called for other Norfolk villages to be 'very aware of what's possibly coming to their own doorsteps'.

A Norfolk County Council spokesman said: 'We have to be consistent across the whole county in the way we provide free transport at public expense, so we do carry out route reviews following national criteria to ensure that we are being fair, and that any changes are taken into account.

'The vast majority of parents will be unaffected by route reviews and we will continue to provide free school transport for children that are eligible because of the distance they live from the school, if there is no available walking route, or because of their family circumstances or children's specific needs.'

Children who receive free transport because they live more than two miles from school if they are under eight, or three miles away if they are older, are not affected.

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