Calls to reverse bus cuts

Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher
Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher

A SENIOR councillor has called for a council to reconsider its decision to axe bus subsidies

Village residents and pensioners were left stranded after bus companies axed daytime and evening services as a result of Hartlepool Borough Council removing its £287,000 supported bus services funding last year.

Bus companies said the routes were not viable to run, but it left people in the villages of Elwick and Dalton Piercy in particular without public transport.

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Speaking at a meeting of the full council, Labour councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher said it could be time to revisit that decision when public health responsibilities transfer to the local authority.

He said councillors knew there would be a “fall-out” from their decision to cut bus subsidies but did not expect the “severity” of impact on people.

Coun Akers-Belcher, leader of the Labour group, said: “If we really are serious about improving the wellbeing of residents then in this year’s budget round we are duty bound to revisit that decision.”

He added it was difficult to justify the cuts when the council had a net underspend of £4m at the end of the 2012 financial year, as previously reported.

Finance chiefs have previously said the underspend was as a result of “robust” management of budgets, “good housekeeping” and holding posts vacant.

Labour councillor Jim Ainslie, who represents the Headland and Harbour ward, said people there have also been “marooned” after 6pm on a night due to bus cuts and said that was the biggest gripe among residents.

Calls were also made for the re-regulation of bus services to allow local authorities to run them.

Mayor Stuart Drummond said there was some soundings from government they were considering it but said that was “some way off”.

Labour councillor Jonathan Brash said: “The best bus service in the country is in London and the reason is because they are still regulated.

“We must move towards re-regulation.”

The debate was sparked after a question by Sue Little, who runs Pauls Travels, based in Oxford Road.

Mrs Little, who stepped in to provide a service three times a day, three days a week, for Elwick and Dalton Piercy residents, called for more support for smaller operators.

Mayor Drummond said the council’s Integrated Transport Unit supports operators applying for licences to run commercial services.

Mrs Little asked if it was feasible for the council to make the yellow fleet available to hire at a “reasonable cost” when they weren’t being used, or to sell surplus vehicles to town operators.

Mayor Drummond said he was unaware of any surplus vehicles and he said officers were currently working on plans to maximise the yellow fleet, currently used for the school run and trips to the swimming pool.

Meanwhile, Labour councillor Robbie Payne praised former Elwick councillor Hilary Thompson and Elwick Parish Council for their efforts in restoring the bus service to the village.