Controversial funding cuts that would have left vital bus services on the Fylde coast facing the axe have been dropped following a Gazette campaign.
County Hall bosses voted to scrap ideas to pull funding for more than 140 subsidised routes in Lancashire – to the delight of worried residents.
The Save Our Buses campaign – launched jointly by The Gazette, the Lytham St Annes Express and the Fleetwood Weekly News – called on Lancashire County Council to ditch the plans. It received more than 750 signatures in under two weeks.
Yesterday, the council’s cabinet unveiled its proposed budget, outlining a series of measures to save £146m over the next three years – which no longer include cutting bus subsidies.
The change of heart has been welcomed across the Fylde coast following fears the “cruel” cuts would have had devastating effects.
Coun Maxine Chew, of Singleton and Greenhalgh, said: “The news will be of huge relief to all rural residents in Fylde and particularly the elderly.
“I am so pleased that the county council has had second thoughts on the matter – it was a cruel suggestion that would have affected many vulnerable people in our rural societies.
“The decision to remove subsidised bus routes would have made people without cars or unable to drive so isolated that they might have sold up and left the houses they have lived in for years.”
Coun Liz Oades, of Fylde East, said: “It would have impacted on an awful amount of people – young people who need to get to school, people who work and can’t afford to drive and people in the countryside who would have been further isolated without these bus routes.
“It is unacceptable as we are getting older to expect people to get to Blackpool Victoria from rural areas without a bus service in place.
“This is why I am particularly pleased that the council has listened to what the effects would have been.”
In Fleetwood, Alan Marsh, is one of several campaigners who launched a protest over the plans to cut the services.
He said: “This is splendid news and may well be down to people power.
“We have an elderly population in Wyre and people need a comprehensive bus service which satisfies people’s needs.
“I’m delighted the County Council has decided to leave the buses alone because public transport is so vital for those who don’t have cars.”
And Angela Patchett, another campaigner from the town, said: “It is a very welcome development.
“Some people would have been left very isolated if those proposals had gone ahead.
“It is always worth making a stand so that the people who make these decisions know how strongly people feel.”
Speaking after yesterday’s cabinet meeting, deputy leader Coun David Borrow warned this may not be the end of the issue.
He said: “It was an option put forward by officers that we decided not to take – a lot of people raised concerns.
“We don’t know what the financial position will be in the next few years.
“We are in a very difficult position and it may have to go back into the financial mix.
“But it’s not a decision we felt we needed to make now.”
The removal of the bus subsidy cuts from the proposed budget, which would have saved almost £9m a year, leave County Hall facing a £23m funding gap by 2018.
If approved by the full council in February, the budget will see the council make savings of £146m over the next three years, on top of the £139m that has already been agreed.
A consultation over the proposed budget is underway at www.lancashire.gov.uk