Norfolk bus fare petition delivered to 10 Downing Street

A 'significant step' has been made in a campaign to convince the government to plug a multi-million pound funding gap in Norfolk caused by concessionary bus fares, council leaders said after presenting a 23,500-signature petition at Downing Street.

Norfolk County Council leaders met transport minister Norman Baker in London yesterday, where he agreed a specially-convened working group would investigate whether rural counties such as Norfolk were getting a raw deal.

The council launched its Fair Fares campaign in autumn because the amount the government gives the council to reimburse bus operators for ferrying about concessionary bus pass-holders does not cover the actual cost.

That has left the county council �4.5m out of pocket this year and the figure is likely to rise to �5.3m over the next 12 months.

Yesterday, council leaders and Norfolk MPs went to Downing Street to present a petition signed by thousands of Norfolk people calling for the government to give extra cash to the county to cover the costs.

Graham Plant, county council cabinet member for planning and transportation, was joined by Great Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis, South Norwich MP Richard Bacon, Broadland MP Keith Simpson and Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman.

The campaign has won support beyond the Norfolk borders, and John Hart, leader of Devon County Council, and Sophie Allan, from the Campaign for Better Transport, also headed to Downing Street for the handing over of the petition, which was followed by the meeting with Mr Baker.

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Mr Plant said a 'significant step' had been taken, after it emerged at the meeting a recently-formed local government finance group, which will meet each month, will look specifically at concessionary bus fares and the cost of rural transport.

Mr Plant said: 'I am not hopeful of getting a special grant to cover the cost, but what I am hopeful of is that once the group has had a look at the issue for the rural counties we will get a fairer slice of the funding.

'It showed that the petition was well worth the effort the people of Norfolk made and that their voice has been heard in the heart of government.'

Great Yarmouth MP Mr Lewis said: 'I would like to thank everyone who signed the petition. This is not an issue which will simply go away.

'I will be pressing the minister very hard on this issue as the current situation is unsustainable.

'The entire Norfolk transport system is straining to cope with the burden placed by the current arrangements, which is a legacy of the last government.'

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