Bus services to the Devil’s Dyke and Ditchling Beacon saved with government funding

Bus services to the Devil’s Dyke and Ditchling Beacon have been given a one-year reprieve after they were threatened by subsidy cuts when the council set its budget last month.
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The stay of execution comes after the government gave the council permission to use funding intended for the council’s Bus Service Improvement Plan.

Funds allocated to the plan – drawn up by councils up and down the country – are generally required to be spent on improving journey times, reliability, passenger growth and customer satisfaction.

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But the Department for Transport said that the council could use its government grant to help revive the routes as bus services continue to recover from the coronavirus pandemic restrictions.

SK16 GXG (Route 79) at Ditchling Beacon. Picture: submittedSK16 GXG (Route 79) at Ditchling Beacon. Picture: submitted
SK16 GXG (Route 79) at Ditchling Beacon. Picture: submitted

Brighton and Hove Buses, which runs the council-subsidised routes, said that the fare for both services – the 77 to the Devil’s Dyke and the 79 to Ditchling Beacon – remained just £2 each way.

The bus company also runs the 78 to Stanmer although this route was unaffected by the cuts agreed at the annual “budget council” meeting.

The 79 to Ditchling Beacon was the subject of a petition to Brighton and Hove City Council.

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The petition was started by Lin MacCallum Stewart who presented it to the council’s Transport and Sustainability Committee at Hove Town Hall today (Tuesday 26 March).

The 76-year-old retired business analyst said that the “Breeze up to the Downs” services took her to her “happy place” – and her petition was signed by more than 1,000 people.

She was delighted when Labour councillor Trevor Muten told her that the council had found a way to keep funding the services.

Ms MacCallum Stewart said: “In the summer, plenty of people who are disabled, disadvantaged and don’t have cars use it (the 79).

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“But when it is raining and there is thick fog, there is no one on that bus which is why it needs the subsidy.

“When there’s not nice weather, there’s very few people and occasionally I’m on the bus by myself.”

Ms MacCallum Stewart asked whether passenger numbers could be measured against the weather.

And she said that she would write to the National Trust to ask the charity to revive its share of the subsidy which it provided until the covid pandemic.

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Councillor Muten, who chairs the Transport and Sustainability Committee, said that the council sought alternative finance because its own general fund was “too squeezed”.

He said: “By putting it through the Bus Service Improvement Plan, we can find some funds to promote this service and encourage people to use it.

“I checked with Brighton and Hove Buses on the 78 and 79. They do allow bicycles to go on those routes and I don’t think many cyclists are aware of that.”

Bikes are not permitted on the 77. But pensioners can travel free on all three Breeze up to the Downs routes from 9am to 4pm on weekdays – and any time at weekends and on bank holidays.

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Councillor Muten said: “This is great news and I’m thankful we’ve been able to work with the Department for Transport to use money from the Bus Service Improvement Plan to run and promote these services for another 12 months.

“I’d also like to thank all those who’ve contacted me about these services in recent weeks. We’ve listened carefully to what residents have to say and worked hard to protect council services while finding another way to fund Breeze up to the Downs buses.

“This is a lifeline. We have one year more of funding these services and they can only continue beyond that if they’re commercially viable. We will be monitoring the passenger numbers.

“May I humbly and respectfully ask all who signed a petition to save these services to take the bus to the top of the Downs and help make them economically viable and sustainable.”

For timetable information, visit https://www.buses.co.uk/breeze-downs.

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