County postpones cuts to evening and Sunday bus services

The group of protesters outside County hall in Hertford opposing a proposed £1 million cut in bus se

The group of protesters outside County hall in Hertford opposing a proposed £1 million cut in bus services - Credit: Archant

Swingeing cuts to bus services have been reined in for the time being - and more public consultation is on the way.

Instead of backing controversial changes to bus services subsidised by the county council, a panel at County Hall this week opted to tweak the proposed cuts and recommend further consultation in January.

A huge outcry in the summer greeted county council proposals to save money on subsidised bus services by axing journeys after 6.30pm from Monday to Saturday and all day Sunday.

Among the 4,500-plus countywide responses to the public consultation, only 30 supported the proposals. The objections included a 500-signature petition opposing the proposal from the New Greens Estate in St Albans.

The panel is now recommending withdrawing funding from subsidised services after 7.30pm Monday to Saturday - an hour later than initially proposed - and while it is still backing the axing of subsidised Sunday services, it proposes exempting services that directly serve hospitals.

If the county council cabinet supports the proposal, the changes will go out to consultation from January to March with a decision in May - General Election month.

Opposition councillors at County Hall have led the resistance to the proposals and have accused the ruling Tory group of proposing to decimate bus services in the county.

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St Albans Lib Dem county councillor Sandy Walkington warned that the new set of proposals - which also includes limiting the amount of subsidy per passenger journey - could mean cuts of £1.5 million.

He pointed out that with £700,000 savings made already on the planned bus budget, the panel had missed an opportunity to sit down with operators and plan the way forward.

Critical of the county council’s failure to contact the two hospital trusts about the proposals, Cllr Walkington also called for a new direct link between St Albans and Watford General Hospital which, he said, would “would be incredibly useful and certainly attract a lot of use.”

Labour group leader on the district council, Martin Leach, said the issue regularly came up at ward surgeries which had led to the setting up of the petition in New Greens where the cuts would have a particular impact on the young and the elderly.”

He added: “County Hall seems to have kicked the whole issue into the long grass until after the General Election.”

County highways chief Terry Douris added: “Despite having already made some savings, the funding gap remains an ongoing challenge. The proposals for further consultation will enable us to make informed decisions about how to make the savings needed in the future.”