Hundreds of Norwich students in protest march
Hundreds of people from a Norwich college marched on Norfolk County Hall to demand that council leaders do not to remove subsidised travel for students.
More than 300 students took part in the demonstration which set off from Norwich City College's Ipswich Road campus at 11am yesterday before a petition was handed in to Norfolk County Council bosses just after noon.
The county council, which needs to save �155m over the next three years, is currently consulting on a proposal to end the subsidy for school and college transport for those aged 16 and over.
It would mean the cost of a bus pass for students would then double to �784 per student per year from September 2012 – a cost many say they just cannot afford to pay.
Speaking before yesterday's demonstration, which was organised by the students' union, college principal Dick Palmer said: 'I think it's really important not just for the students here today, but for future students over the next few years who really do need access to this transport subsidy. It makes all the difference.'
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Mr Palmer, who said transport was just the start of the cost for students who might also need to pay for books and materials for their courses, added: 'One third of our 16-19-year-old students need a bus pass to get to City College Norwich. Some young people would inevitably drop out of learning at 16 because of the increased costs of travel and would waste their potential by becoming disaffected and unemployed.
'A sharp increase in travel costs would hit students in rural communities particularly hard. We risk denying these young people access to the skilled opportunities in vocational sectors that are available to their city counterparts.'
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Tom Grant, president of the students' union at Norwich City College, said he was pleased that so many had come out to support the demonstration and helped get the message across, despite the cold weather conditions.
He said: 'There was around 300 it was a really good atmosphere. They went away happy knowing they had put their point across in the way they wanted to.
'It (the demonstration) was to show the county that we really do care. We want to learn but if the subsidy is taken away from us, especially on top of the cut of EMA (Education Maintenance Allowance), it's taking our chance away. It's making it impossible for students to learn.'
Mr Grant said that the transport subsidy was not only very important for students who live in rural parts of the county, but also for some bus operators that depend upon students to keep certain services running.
A petition of at least 300 names was handed into County Hall, but hundreds more signatures will be added when a further petition is submitted at the end of the county council's consultation on January 10.
Jack Baldwin, 16, from Woodton, who is studying A-Levels at Norwich City College, said he was already paying �350 a year to travel to college and would struggle to be able to pay the extra money if the subsidy was withdrawn.
Tyler Reed, 16, from Thurton, near Loddon, said: 'It's not fair on the people that need transport and don't have the money to pay for it.'
Derrick Murphy, leader of Norfolk County Council, thanked the students for taking part in the lively but peaceful protest and said organisers had put forward their case in a very professional way and that their views would be taken 'very, very seriously'.
A spokesman for Norfolk police said there were between 50 and 60 officers on duty for the protest but it all passed peacefully with no arrests.
To take part in Norfolk County Council's Big Conversation consultation on budget savings, email your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org or log on to www.norfolk.gov.uk to find out more.