County council agrees deal to save bus routes at risk of being axed


- Credit: Archant

A number of bus services in Huntingdonshire which faced being axed after the operator announced it was pulling out of its contract have been saved.

Cambridgeshire County Council has stepped in to provide a temporary reprieve to seven of the 11 routes in the district that were due to be cut after Whippet Coaches revealed last month that many of its routes were operating at a loss because of rising costs and stagnant subsidies.

Whippet had also planned to cut a further five routes across the county, with 16 routes in total proposed to be withdrawn.

However, at a meeting of the county council’s economic and environment committee last Thursday, members voted in favour of saving a total of 12 of the routes, which are already contracted by the authority, for a year.

The services saved in Huntingdonshire include the 8, 9, 12, 15, 21, and 45/45A.

In addition, the authority will carry out a nine-month review of its bus services and community transport provision with a view to identify where routes are needed and where alternative provisions can be made.

“People have to use them now or lose them – it is not going to carry on forever,” committee member, Councillor Ryan Fuller said.

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“We have bought ourselves 12 months to look at people’s habits and where they are using them to redesign local bus services.

“We have to design bus routes to serve our communities as they are now.”

To save the services, the council has agreed to spend £455,000 on awarding contracts to smaller bus companies, and will begin discussions with community transport organisations to determine if funding can be found to continue the services after the 12-month period.

“The review is to look at every single bus route around the county and design bus routes that people will actually want to use,” Cllr Fuller added.

“The county council is not the only one that can fund transport and we will be going to the town and parish councils, along with the district council and [Cambridgeshire mayor] James Palmer.”

The council will also look at the under-threat 1, 1A and 5 services which cover Fenstanton and The Hemingfords, but at this stage it deems that the village is already served by community transport provision and another commercial route.

But residents living in Hemingford Grey and Hemingford Abbots fear that if a solution can’t be found to replace the services then some of the community will become “marooned”.

Hemingford Grey Parish Council carried out a survey which revealed that more than three-quarters of regular bus users in the village are elderly, some with sight or mobility problems.

Four out of five use the bus for healthcare appointments, and for 87 per cent it is their vital link to the shops in St Ives, Huntingdon and Cambridge, the survey discovered.

Councillor Doug Dew, parish council chairman, said: “The parish council was concerned about the proposals at our last meeting. Seeing the results shows we urgently need to resolve the situation. We are liaising with all tiers of local government.”

The results of the survey, with nearly 100 respondents, will be sent to members of the county and district council, along with mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough James Palmer, and MP for Huntingdon Jonathan Djanogly.