The mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough has stepped in to grant a temporary reprieve for two bus routes serving St Neots.

Mayor James PalmerMayor James Palmer

Bus operator Whippet was preparing to pull out of the town’s 61 and 63 services because they were making a loss. After hearing the services were under threat, mayor James Palmer agreed to provide funding to keep the routes going until March 2019.

The routes are seen as important for people getting to and around the town, for its economy and its attractiveness as a place to live and work.

The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority in June this year approved £4.1million of funding for the St Neots Masterplan, a wide-ranging blueprint for the future growth of the town.

The mayor’s intervention will keep the routes going while the combined authority awaits the results of a review of bus services for the whole of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. The report and its recommendations are expected to be finalised in November.

Mr Palmer said: “The loss of the 61 and 63 services would impact many people in St Neots. With the rapid progress we have made with the St Neots Masterplan, we cannot afford to lose momentum and so it makes sense to sustain these important services in the short term while longer term strategies are being put in place.

“St Neots is growing, and following the implementation of the masterplan, which includes a new foot and cycle bridge linking the Market Square, we expect further growth and an increase in demand on public transport.

“I’ve said before that buses are not working for people in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. But it is also my view that it is not sustainable for the combined authority to continuously have to step in to retain these existing bus services when they are about to be lost.

“Our strategic bus review, which is due for reporting in November, will give us recommendations on how best to reshape buses so that they work for everyone in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. But in the meantime, low-cost interventions like this make sense to avoid disruption for people and businesses.

District councillor for St Neots, Councillor David Wells, who is also chairman of the St Neots Masterplan steering group, said: “This is an important intervention, especially when improving travel within St Neots is a key part of the town’s masterplan for growth.

“The 61 and 63 bus services provide a key link for residents of Eaton Socon, Eaton Ford and Eynesbury with the town centre. I support the combined authority’s wider review of bus services, where improvements will be particularly important for the vitality of market towns like St Neots.”

Following the intervention, Whippet has agreed to further promote the services and encourage greater use, which, it is hoped, will reduce the cost of public subsidy.

Whippet managing director, Charlie Hamilton said: “We are delighted that mayor James Palmer is supportive of local bus services in St Neots. The considerable growth and economic prosperity of the town is strengthened by a good public bus service.

“We believe that government support is vital for bus services outside of the big cities, and that Mr Palmer has shown his commitment to supporting towns in the combined authority region as well as the big cities.”