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Campaign to save local night buses as fury mounts over Labour-led County Council's bus cut plans

John Freeman
Original image via Stagecoach (Mash-Up via Internet)
Campaigners have begun a fight back against Lancashire County Council proposals to stop all evening and Sunday services between Lancaster and Kirkby Lonsdale as well as on several other routes around Lancaster and Morecambe.

The campaign to save bus services is backed by Lancaster MP Eric Ollerenshaw, who is urging local people to write to their local councillors and protest before a vital vote in February, and the North West Green Party - but local Labour Party councillors argue they have no choice on the matter.

As we previously reported, the Labour-run County Council, is running a "consultation" on the plan, saying it will save £3.8m over the next two years by withdrawing subsidies which enable the services to operate - but the cuts will affect most of the villages and outlying council estates in the Lancaster area.

The closing date for responses to the consultation is 17th January and a decision will be made at a full council meeting on 20th February.

Bus services to Freehold, the Ridge the Marsh and Vale estates in Lancaster and Skerton, Heysham, Morecambe, Carnforth, Hest Bank Railway Station, Bolton-le-Sands and Overton are among those that would be lost if the plan goes ahead.

"This will lead to greater car use and an inability to travel at those times for anyone who does not have a car, so particularly the young, the old and the poor," argues Caton resident Ursula Gallie, who has launced an online petition to try to save the Kirkby Lonsdale service.

"It will undermine efforts to cut down on car use, add to traffic in Lancaster, put pressure on parking and undermine campaigns to reduce carbon emissions."

Lancaster MP Eric Ollerenshaw has already raised questions in the House of Commons about the proposals and is taking the matter up with the Secretary of State for Transport.

“The proposed cuts to routes will have an adverse affect on our rural and town communities alike," he told the Lancaster Guardian, "isolating many people who have no other means of transport or support as well as damaging the local economy.”

“County Hall, although currently run by Labour, is in effect a ‘hung council’ so I would ask anyone who doesn’t want these proposals to go ahead to lobby their local county councillor. If all the opposition councillors do as the Conservative councillors will be doing and vote against these cuts then they will not go ahead.”

Transport expert Professor John Whitelegg has condemned the plans.

"The bus cuts announced by the county council are a savage attack on public transport in this area," says Lancaster-based Professor Whitelegg, who is a visiting Professor of Sustainable Transport at Liverpool John Moores University and Professor of Sustainable Development at University of York's Stockholm Environment Institute.

"They will damage the lives of older people and those who do not own a car and they are yet another attack on low income groups and those who live in rural areas."

The North West Green Party has condemned the proposals and have accused Lancashire County Council of squandering money on unnecessary road building schemes.

County Councillor John Fillis, cabinet member for highways and transport says the County would never have chosen to be in this financial situation but say thet have to find ways to drastically reduce their budget due to cuts imposed by central government.

"We're still consulting on this budget proposal, so nothing has yet been agreed," he said recently, "but a very important part of it is to invest an additional £500,000 in community transport such as dial-a-ride services to ensure that support is focused on those with the greatest need, and where the public transport network is particularly limited.

In a joint statement, local Labour county councillors Darren Clifford, Janice Hanson, Chris Henig, Richard Newman-Thompson and Niki Penney said: “No elected member wants to withdraw bus subsidies but we are facing a massive budget shortfall.

“The most vulnerable – who are unable to stand at bus stops – will be protected because funding for community transport will be increased as the need for this service increases.”

The Campaign for Better Transport ‘Buses in Crisis’ report, published last year, revealed that 46 per cent of local authorities have reduced their support for buses in 2013-14 with a number threatening to remove all support this year.

Supported buses are services that are subsidised by local authorities because they are not provided by commercial bus companies. They account for between 20-22 per cent of bus services across England and Wales and serve communities where no alternative route exists, meaning that any cut or alteration can often have a huge impact on residents and local economies.

In 2013 there have been £17m of cuts in the budget for supported buses in England, resulting in 147 service cuts or withdrawals, whilst in Wales, there were 25 service cuts or withdrawals.

The County Council's Consultation on the plan to cut Lancashire buse services is here

• Ursula Gallie's petition calling on the County Council to drop its proposal here:

Campaign for Better Transport "Save Our Buses" Camapign 

• View the Campaign for Better Transport's interactive bus cuts map which makes transparent the extent of the problem of local authority funding cuts to buses. This map is a crowd sourcing project, which means the CBT are asking you to help us track bus cuts

County Council documents on affected services (PDF links)