Buses on some rural routes threatened with closure by cuts have been given an 11th hour reprieve by Lancashire County Council.
Bus services in and out of Chipping travelling via Longridge and Ribchester to Blackburn and Clitheroe had been due to finish this Saturday, leaving students unable to get to college and those without their own transport, including some of the most vulnerable, stranded.
Last night, LCC’s Integrated & Public Transport servie sent a letter, entitled ‘Replacement bus services for Chipping, Longridge and Ribchester’ stating:
“Further to our previous communication regarding the withdrawal of tendered local bus service contracts in Lancashire, and in particular, bus services between Chipping and Blackburn/Clitheroe via Longridge and Ribchester, LCC is pleased to advise residents that a revised replacement bus service will operate from Monday, February 22 to serve these areas.
“A Cabinet Working Group on Buses has been established to recommend where a reduced budget could be used to try and maintain bus services in areas where there is likely to be significant need.
“Whilst this Cabinet Working Group will assess other areas in the coming weeks, prior to April, an urgent decision has been made to provide a revised replacement service to operate from Monday, February 22, for the following routes and will be operated by Holmeswood Coaches as follows:
Service 5B Chipping – Longridge – Ribchester – Blackburn
Service 5C Chipping – Longridge – Ribchester – Clitheroe
“LCC will introduce these new services as partial replacements to Services 5 and 15, which are to be withdrawn after February 20.
New Service 5B will operate every two hours Monday to Saturday daytime between Chipping and Blackburn via Longridge, Ribchester, Salesbury, Knowsley Road, Pleckgate and St Mary’s College.
“New Service 5C will operate every two hours Monday to Saturday daytime between Chipping and Clitheroe via Longridge, Ribchester, Hurst Green and Whalley.
“Services 5B & 5C will interwork in similar way to the current services to maintain an hourly Monday to Saturday daytime service between Chipping, Longridge and Ribchester.
“Although these new services will not offer a full direct replacement, it is anticipated the services will meet a large number of customer’s journey requirements, based on the feedback we have received, and within the limited funding available.”
The news has been welcomed by campaigner David Hudson, Chairman of Save Our Buses Ribchester, who said: ”I’m really, really delighted. I was surprised....It’s a reduced service - it’s a service I believe is viable. As a village and as a community what we need to do is get more people using these services to maintain them.”
He added that the continuation of bus links to neighbouring towns meant that this summer’s school leavers looking to choose college places would once again have a choice of where to apply, knowing that they would be able to get to college. Existing students would now be able to get to classes next week using public transport.”
County Councillor John Fillis, cabinet member for highways and transport, said: “We’re supporting these new services as a partial replacement until April to ensure that communities are not affected before the cabinet working group has had time to consider the impact of the council’s decision to withdraw bus service contracts.
“This is an interim arrangement which is being funded from the existing budget for supporting buses.
“Although these new services will not offer a full direct replacement, we anticipate they will meet many people’s needs based on the feedback we have received and the limited funding available.
“The county council’s financial situation could hardly be more difficult, with the need to spend all of our usable reserves just to balance the budget over the next two years.
“The decision to withdraw bus service contracts was one of many very difficult decisions we have taken to agree next year’s budget, in full knowledge of the impact it would have on those who rely on them to get to work, access education, visit the doctors or do their shopping.
“The cross-party cabinet working group, and the £2m budget to support transport for communities, has been established to mitigate the impact of the contracts being withdrawn and I will carefully consider their recommendations in due course.”