A protest march against proposals to cut 16 school bus routes in Cornwall received an “ecstatic reception” from students, teachers and bus drivers in St Austell last week.
Labour Party activist Noah Law organised the march along one one of the routes which could be affected, from Poltair School to Penwithick, on Friday.
Mr Law – who was joined by Labour’s St Austell Town Council candidate for Central & Gover ward Maggi Hawken and Garry Tregidga, Mebyon Kernow parish councillor in Penwithick, among others – has also started an online petition asking for Cornwall Council to reconsider the cost-cutting measure.
The identified routes have been assessed as being ‘suitable to walk’ following completion of pedestrian route assessments (PRA) but for which free transport is still being provided. A route is judged ‘suitable to walk’ if it is determined that it could be used safely by pedestrians, while acknowledging that children may need to be accompanied.
The council has been reviewing the safety assessments of the 16 routes – especially those that may not have been carried out recently – and if they are still considered suitable then new applications for travel assistance on these routes will not be approved from September 2024 in a bid by the council to save money. Public consultation ended last month.
The four primary school runs are:
Hatt to Landulph School
Minorca Lane to Bugle School
Joan Moffat Close to Liskeard Hillfort School
Porthtowan to Mount Hawke Academy.
The secondary school routes are:
Tregadillet to Launceston College
South Petherwin to Launceston College
Prince Phillip Estate to Launceston College
St Cleer to Liskeard School and Community College
Lamellion to Liskeard School and Community College
Dobwalls to Liskeard School and Community College
Foxhole to Brannel School (St Stephen)
Burlawn to Wadebridge School
Cury to Mullion School
Truthwall to Cape Cornwall School (St Just)
Delabole to Sir James Smith’s School (Camelford)
Concern stretches across the county, with parents worried about the safety of primary school children walking from Porthtowan to Mount Hawke Academy and similar fears for older students in South Petherwin, near Launceston, and the possible loss of the Truthwall to Cape Cornwall service in St Just. The proposal has already been criticised by many parents and councillors.
Mr Law said: “Cornwall Council has tabled a proposal to end 16 Cornish school bus routes, including on dangerous roads, as an indiscriminate cost-cutting measure. Very limited consultation of parents concerned has taken place and, yet, the measures are set to be introduced as early as the next school year.
“In some areas, over half the children affected are from disadvantaged backgrounds. Attendance will no doubt be affected and safety compromised. This is a short-term cut with long-term costs.”
He added: “School attendance has already dropped off a cliff since the pandemic, hitting the most disadvantaged students hardest. Slashing school bus routes will make things worse. Many of the routes deemed ‘suitable to walk’ lack pavements, have very poor pavements and are on roads with the national speed limit.
“For some this will mean around two hours’ walk to school and back each day which, whilst a nice thought on a bright, sunny day with no time pressures, is a huge blow to many families. As such, we are asking for the immediate withdrawal of the proposal by Cornwall Council.”
Of the protest walk, he said: “We received an ecstatic reception from the students, teachers, bus drivers and passers-by tooting their horns.”
Mr Law added that he had heard a suggestion that Cormac had deemed the Penwithick to Poltair too dangerous for walking, but a spokesperson for Cornwall Council told us that was not the case and the route has not been reclassified.