Herstmonceux ‘save our bus’ petition handed in

Herstmonceux residents campaign to save the free school bus service.
Herstmonceux residents campaign to save the free school bus service.

Parents campaigning to save a free school bus have handed a petition in to East Sussex County Council calling on officials to reverse the decision to axe the service.

The petition, signed by 168 parents from Herstmonceux and surrounding villages, was presented to the council’s chairman Colin Belsey.

It calls for the council to halt a decision taken in January to make parents pay to send their children to certain schools, when currently the service is provided free.

For some parents it will mean finding as much as £700 per year to send their children to the school of their choice.

The plans will see children in a number of so-called “joint areas” only getting free school buses to the secondary school closer to their home.

Children in these zones had been allowed free school transport to a choice of schools, but the council has now axed the subsidy for children moving to secondary school next year.

Because the new policy will only come in for children starting in Year 7 in September it means some parents will have two children going to the same school, on the same bus – the older children will be free and the new entrant charged.

Parents have also held meetings with local councillors and written to MP Greg Barker in an attempt to gain support for their campaign.

Headteachers at the secondary schools affected by the changes are also being lobbied by the campaign group as it is believed the alterations could have a knock-on effect to the numbers of children applying to certain schools.

The campaign to get the council’s decision reversed will now be discussed at a council meeting later this year where the parents will get an opportunity to present their arguments to the committee.

Parent Jennie Mackay said: “The decision is unfair in that suddenly they have decided to chop away the free bus service.

“It means unless you can afford £500 per year your child’s choice of secondary school has been taken away from them by the council, at a time when children are supposed to be able to choose what school they want to attend.

“They held a consultation and even though more than 90 per cent opposed the changes they have still railroaded them through.”

Fellow parent Matthew Davis, said: “It is important people don’t just let the council do this to us. We need to get behind the campaign and ensure we put as much pressure on the council to reverse this decision as we can.

“Otherwise it means people forking out large sums of money just to get their kids to school, which doesn’t really seem fair.”

An East Sussex County Council spokesman said: “We appreciate there are strong feelings on this issue but at a time when we are facing significant cuts to our budget, difficult decisions have to be made.

“In most parts of East Sussex, eligible children already only receive free transport to their nearest school, and these changes will mean the system across the county as a whole is clearer, fairer and more equitable.

“The distance from Herstmonceux to Heathfield is around three miles further than to Hailsham, and the cost of subsidising the longer journey is ultimately borne by the taxpayers of East Sussex.

“While parents can select a more distant school other than their nearest, at a time when we’re having to find savings across all of our departments, we simply can’t justify the continued additional cost involved.

“Under the changes, we will fulfil our legal obligation to provide all eligible children living over the qualifying distance with free transport to their nearest school.”