Free school transport axed for Wheathampstead pupils at Harpenden school

PARENTS whose children have been receiving free transport to a Harpenden secondary school have been told it is to end because it is now safe for their offspring to walk.

Around 33 families in Wheathampstead with children at their nearest school, Sir John Lawes (SJL), have been notified that their free travel will end from September.

The parents have been told that they are now regarded as living within a safe three-mile walking route of the school – although previously they received free transport because they lived further than three miles from the school and no safe route existed.

One of the affected parents, Claire Hayes, maintained that the route to SJL was far from safe as it involved going along an unlit footpath from fields leading on to the Lower Luton Road and the distance totalled 3.43 miles which was outside the requisite three miles.

Claire pointed out that it would take more than an hour to get to and from the school and parents had been told if they weren’t happy about their children walking alone, they should accompany them.

The cost of sending one child by bus to school would be in the region of �450 to �500 a year at the moment but that figure was expected to rise, she went on.

Claire said she had made a number of efforts to speak to someone in the county council’s school transport department but had only had one response which had left her with other questions.

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She added: “I am horrified that the council expects young children to walk that distance to and from school, and even more so that this is via a hazardous route.”

Wheathampstead parish councillor Judy Shardlow said she had put in a Freedom of Information request to the county council to try and establish how many of the affected families had been consulted about the ending of their free travel but she had not received a response so far.

She explained: “I wanted to know how many families were told in advance that the route was going to be reclassified as a safe route to school and whether they had any input into it.

“I think this has been done in a sly way.”

Questioning the safety of the proposed route, she said: “At the end of the road is a public footway which goes through countryside, is not level, has no lighting and is an isolated spot where, many years ago, there was a flasher incident.”

A spokesperson for the county council said they routinely reviewed all routes and following “careful consideration” the journey from Wheathampstead to Sir John Lawes School via the Lower Luton Road has been deemed a safe route to school.

He went on: “We have given notice to families affected that they will no longer be entitled to free transport, which was previously provided on the basis that the walking route to school for their children was unsafe.

The spokesperson added: “Bus routes operate from Wheathampstead to Sir John Lawes School with the option to purchase a Hertfordshire concessionary SaverCard to obtain discounted, subsidised travel.”