‘Why would council hit a service which will affect so many people?’

Cuts fears: Rural campaigners are concerned about plans to cut bus services
Cuts fears: Rural campaigners are concerned about plans to cut bus services
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Help us save our lifeline buses.

That is the impassioned plea today from councillors, campaigners, residents across the Fylde coast today after transport bosses drew up proposals to axe rural bus services across the area.

The plans to cut funding for subsidised bus services have been blasted, with councillors saying the cuts would “decimate” rural areas of the Fylde coast, and be a “tragedy” for vulnerable and elderly residents.

County Hall has said the proposal is only an option at this stage and final decisions will be taken in February. But whatever the outcome it is likely some bus services will be cut, as transport bosses have identified public transport reductions as a key way of saving money.

In total, County Hall is considering axeing more than 140 individual bus services across the county as part of desperate efforts to save a massive £315m by April 2018 due to savage central government cuts.

And that is why today The Gazette is launching a major campaign to stop the routes being scrapped – and is calling on all Fylde residents to sign a petition against the proposed service cuts.

Coun Paul Hayhurst, independent county councillor for Fylde West, said: “They aren’t looking at the bigger picture.

“When people are left lonely and isolated, social services will have to step in and there will be costs incurred elsewhere.

“These services are a vital lifeline for our villages and town centres.”

Grange Park resident and Blackpool campaigner Terry Bennett said: “It’s important that we keep these bus services. Not everybody has got cars and not everybody can drive.

“If they take them away they are cutting off a lifeline for a lot of people.

“The biggest problem for the elderly population is loneliness and isolation - that’s going to increase if the buses are taken off.

“We need to do what we can to help support the elderly.”

The proposal comes as Lancashire County Council finalises its proposals for coping with huge cuts to its funding. The move would involve cutting all funding for subsidised bus services, saving 
almost £9m a year. The council spends around £1.3m a year subsidising buses on the Fylde coast.

It could see subsidised bus contracts scrapped across Fylde and Wyre with the villages of Singleton, Greenhalgh, Weeton and Moss Side losing out.

Services to Knott End, Pilling, Preesall, Stalmine, Hambleton and parts of Fleetwood, Cleveleys and Little Thornton would also be affected.

Coun Maxine Chew, councillor for Singleton and Greenhalgh on Fylde Council, warned the proposal would “create extreme social loneliness”.

She added: “It would be an absolute tragedy for these people, there has to be alternatives, they can’t just cut these services and abandon our communities.”

Coun Chew has spoken to residents in Singleton regarding the proposal and cuts to the number 75 bus service that goes through the village.

She said: “One woman in her own words said that if the bus service was to go it would be like chopping off her legs as it would leave her so isolated.”

Sandra Penswick is a mother of four children who regularly use the number 76 bus service in and out of Greenhalgh. When the service was temporarily ended earlier this year without notice, her children were left stranded at the bus stop.

She said: “The council told us nothing, my son rang to say there were four dashes on the timetable next to the bus that was meant to take them home.

“I paid more than £1,000 for the bus pass and Lancashire County Council gave me no notice that the service was stopping.”

Paul Shaw, 67, Mowbreck Lane, Wesham, said: “Me and my wife use the buses all the time for getting in and out of town. I can’t understand why they would want to target a service that affects so many people, surely they would realise the negative response that would follow.

“There is a large elderly population in many of the villages that would be affected, many of whom cannot drive to their health.”

Peter Massey, 66, of Freckleton Street, Kirkham, said: “Rural parts of Fylde are an area which are always going to be in great need of bus services.

“Councils are far too quick to forget how costs of living are already spiralling out of control – putting further pressure on people without cars seems ridiculous.”

And Barbara Hall, 68, of Singleton Road, Weeton, said: “If they continue to take away public services from us then we will have nothing left if they are not careful.

“I rely on various buses to get around every day – without them I may as well not bother leaving the house.”

Coun Liz Oades, independent county councillor for Fylde East, said: “I am totally opposed to any cuts in rural Fylde as it will not just impact on people moving round freely but will stop people coming into Kirkham to do their shopping, the cuts will have several consequences.”

Coun Oades who sits on Lancashire County Council’s Budget Scrutiny Working Group says she hopes the council’s cabinet will look for “better and more innovative ways” to save money from next year’s budget.

She added: “I have been told that cabinet will look at the proposals again and there are plans to look at alternatives.”

Coun Hayhurst has previously told The Gazette of complaints he received when just one single service – from Poulton to Preston – was removed last year, and the huge impact it had 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 Frank Andrews, councillor for Ribby with Wrea on Fylde Council, has also voiced his concerns and described bus services in Wrea Green as vital for residents. He said: “Any reduction in the bus services would be viewed as critical.

“There is going to be a number of elderly people affected who don’t drive and its absolutely crucial we keep services running, any reduction can only be very bad news.”

What routes could go?

42 Lancaster - Garstang - Poulton - Blackpool

Monday to Saturday Evenings

74 Fleetwood - Cleveleys - Poulton - Blackpool

Daily Daytime

16 Poulton - Norcross - Bispham

Monday to Saturday Daytime

2C Poulton - Knott End

Daily

84A Fleetwood - Cleveleys - Poulton - Blackpool

Monday to Saturday

Evenings & Sundays

87 Cleveleys - Thornton - Carleton - Poulton

Monday to Saturday Daytime

86, 89, 89H The Wyre Villager - Fleetwood - Knott End - Lancaster

Daily Daytime & 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 & 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

‘More cuts to our buses are just a disgrace’

Residents in Fleetwood and Over Wyre have also told of their concerns at the proposed cuts.

Angela Patchett, a former Wyre councillor and a member of Fleetwood Women’s Institute, is extremely concerned about the proposals.

She said: “I am most concerned about the Over Wyre residents who hardly have adequate services already, and the Fleetwood residents who travel regularly on the 74 bus which is a direct link to Blackpool Victoria Hospital.

“That bus also serves the estates along the way and is filled with disabled and vulnerable pensioners.

“I suggest Lancashire County Council saves thousands of pounds by the non-issue of bus tickets to pensioner or pass holders, like in Greater Manchester.

“More cuts are an absolute disgrace.”

And Angeline Wells, a support worker who is a member of the Ormerod Ramblers group, based at St Paul’s Church in Fleetwood, agreed with Coun Hayhurst that cutting money from the buses could see more expenditure needed elsewhere.

She said: “As a group we rely on some of the buses under threat and plenty of vulnerable individuals do too.

“These cutbacks will lead to an increase in social isolation and affect the independence of people with learning difficulties, the disabled and the elderly.”

Council’s response

David Borrow, deputy leader of Lancashire County Council, said: “An increasing demand for our services coupled with unprecedented central government cuts mean we have to find £315m of savings by April 2018.

“Having already identified many of those savings, we asked officers to put forward more than 40 options to help save the remaining £176m which we’ve been consulting on since early November. No council would choose to be put in the position of having to consider these options, many of which would mean making real and unpalatable cuts to services which people value, but we have to balance the budget.

“At present they have been presented only as options, rather than proposals, and no decision has been taken to make any of these changes.

“We will continue our consultations when we present our formal budget proposals in January.”