Proposals to scrap a raft of subsidised bus services across the Fylde coast in the face of savage budget cuts would leave villagers “extremely isolated”, it was today claimed.
Highways chiefs at County Hall are looking at a plan to scrap 12 subsidised bus contracts across Wyre and Fylde as part of a bid to save more than £9m.
The idea was today blasted by furious opposition councillors and campaigners, who said it would “decimate” areas of the Fylde coast and leave vulnerable and elderly residents cut off.
County Hall bosses admitted they are considering axing more than 140 individual services across the county, leaving eight villages in Wyre and another four in Fylde without a catalogue of services during large parts of the day.
Among the villages which would be affected by the proposals are Knott End, Pilling, Preesall, Stalmine, Hambleton and parts of Fleetwood, Cleveleys and Little Thornton.
Singleton, Greenhalgh, Weeton and Moss Side would also be hit.
The county council today said the plans are still under consideration as part of a number of options, but admitted the move would “leave significant areas across the county council without access to local bus services.”
Coun Paul Hayhurst, independent county councillor for Fylde West, said: “I represent several Fylde villages that heavily rely on subsidised bus services. If they were to be taken away then it would decimate these villages.”
He said that when just one single service – from Poulton to Preston – was removed last year, it had a huge impact on the area.
The Number 80 bus service was scrapped last Christmas after its operating company got into financial difficulties, leaving villagers in Elswick, Great Eccleston and Inskip stranded.
It has since been revived under a new operator but the Number 76, which was altered to provide a link between Great Eccleston and Blackpool, is now among those under threat.
Coun Hayhurst added: “I was inundated with people who could not go to work, college, hospital or their dental appointments.
“At the time it really opened my eyes that these buses are crucial for the community.
“I had people ringing me up to tell me that they had to give up their jobs that very day and that was just a result of one service removed.
“Without all the subsidised services, villages would be extremely isolated. Many forget that a lot of people cannot drive even if they wanted to.”
Blackpool Council is not understood to be currently looking at cutting its bus subsidies. However, one Blackpool Transport service – the Number 16 between Poulton and Bispham – could potentially be impacted by the proposed county cuts.
If the county council cuts services, in February, the subsidised routes would be scrapped from October – saving an initial £4.5m.
Going ahead with the plan would lead to the withdrawal of approximately 94 contracts consisting of approximately 142 individual services.
The council added that a number of schemes, such as community transport, would be looked at to help replace the lost services.
But it admitted that “any community transport coverage will only be a fraction of the existing journeys being made on the subsidised network.”
Stephen Brookes, chairman of the Blackpool Transport Users’ Panel, said: “If the cuts impact on a large number of people it’s a matter of deep concern but we accept at certain times of day some services are not sustainable.
“The reality of cuts these days is that nothing is untouchable and we have to accept the fact if people aren’t using the buses you can’t afford to run them – that is the sad reality.
“But I think it’s a pity Lancashire doesn’t have what we have in Blackpool, a users’ panel working with service providers to work out what is and isn’t needed.”
Fleetwood Town Councillor John Warnock said the plan would hit the most vulnerable people across the area. He added: “At some point there’s going to be nothing left in terms of services.
“I keep asking myself what is the Plan B? If someone is stuck in a village, or indeed in Fleetwood, and needs to get to one of the more remote areas, how will they get there?
“Taxis are not really an option, they are too expensive. Most of these cuts are affecting the most vulnerable people in the community, particularly the elderly.”
Fleetwood Town councillor Stan Leadbetter, said: “Times are tough, but Lancashire County Council must prioritise its services and try and avoid cutting things that are vital, such as bus routes.”
Fleetwood Community Trust spokesman Bob Boal said: “I certainly think they should look at other ways to save money.
“It’s people living in Over Wyre areas which will be most affected.”
Ray Smith, of campaign group Fleetwood Against the Cuts, said: “They may only be options but I think it’s wrong that the county council is considering saving money by cutting back on these bus services.
“They are a vital lifeline to people in more remote areas of Wyre and are too important to even consider cutting.
“There must be a better way to balance its books.”
Subsidised services provide local bus services to areas of the county, or at times of the day, where there are no commercial bus services.
The subsidised network currently accounts for around 20 per cent of the existing local bus service network in the county, carries six million passengers and operates 6.5 million miles per year.
“The withdrawal of approximately 20 per cent of the existing local bus network in Lancashire will leave significant areas across the county council without access to local bus services,” the council added.
This time last year, the county council unveiled a scaled-back version of the current proposals – which would only have affected evening and weekend services – in a bid to save £3.8m a year.
However, in February, it bowed to public pressure and scrapped the plans, saying it has “listened to residents’ views” and would work with operators to find another way to cut costs.
Coun Hayhurst is urging residents and bus users to write to the county council emphasise the importance of the services.
Which services could be involved?
There are 12 ‘contracts’ involved – some of which cover more than one bus ‘number’. They are: 42 Lancaster - Garstang - Poulton - Blackpool: Monday to Saturday evenings
74 Fleetwood - Cleveleys: Poulton - Blackpool, Daily daytime 16 Poulton - Norcross - Bispham, Monday to Saturday daytime
84A Fleetwood - Cleveleys - Poulton - Blackpool: Monday to Saturday evenings and Sundays
87 Cleveleys - Thornton - Carleton - Poulton: Monday to Saturday daytime
86, 89, 89H The Wyre Villager - Fleetwood - Knott End - Lancaster: Daily daytime and evenings
75 The Fylde Villager - Fleetwood - Kirkham - Preston: Daily daytime
76 The Fylde Villager - St Annes - Kirkham - Blackpool: Monday to Saturday daytime
78 St Annes - Lytham - Kirkham - Wesham: Monday to Saturday, evenings and Sundays
79 Freckleton Lamaleach Caravan Park - Kirkham: Thursday daytime
68 Preston - Lytham - St Annes - Blackpool: Sunday to Thursday evenings
61 Preston - Blackpool (Peel Corner Diversion): Daily Daytime