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‘We cannot make exceptions on one school’ - bid to save free bus travel to Gorleston academy fails

PUBLISHED: 12:01 21 January 2014 | UPDATED: 13:54 21 January 2014

Belton bus pass protest

Belton bus pass protest

Archant

More than 130 children at a Norfolk school will lose their free bus travel after councillors today said it would not be fair to give then a reprieve.

Norfolk County Council has to provide free school transport to children attending their catchment or nearest appropriate school if they live over the qualifying distance of two miles for youngsters aged under eight and three miles for children aged eight and above.

But the council also has to provide free transport if the child lives within that distance, but there is not a route to school assessed as being safe for them to walk.

The council spends £2m a year on such free transport for 2,240 children, but regularly re-assesses walking routes and takes away free bus passes if changes, such as new pavements, mean the route is deemed safe.

One of the proposals put forward under the Putting People First consultations, to plug a £189m funding gap over the next three years, is to accelerate the programme of reviewing the routes to save money.

But it has sparked anger, particularly in Belton and Burgh Castle, where families of children at Gorleston’s Ormiston Academy who live within three miles of the school have been told they will be losing their free bus travel.

A motion passed by the county council in September called on the controlling Labour and Liberal Democrat cabinet to think again.

The cabinet asked for officers to carry out a review of the policy.

Officers said the policy of reassessments was applied consistently and was fair and cabinet members agreed to continue with it.

But, at a meeting of the full council yesterday, the council voted on a Conservative/UKIP motion to note its disappointment at the cabinet’s decision.

And today, three UKIP councillors - Matthew Smith, Colin Aldred and Alan Grey - brought the matter to cabinet scrutiny to appeal for a rethink.

Mr Smith, who represents Gorleston St Andrew, called for a common sense approach.

However. Mick Castle, cabinet member for schools, said policies were in place, criteria had been applied and had to be stuck to.

He said to do anything else would be

“madness”.

He added: “We cannot make exceptions on one school, however much the local members would like us to.”

The cabinet scrutiny committee, made up of councillors from all parties, agreed, after a proposal by UKIP leader Toby Coke, to back the cabinet decision unanimously, less than 24 hours after the full council had voted to express its disappointment in that decision.

It means 131 pupils in Belton and Burgh Castle will lose their entitlement to free bus passes after half-term.

Mr Smith said: “We would have been doing a disservice to our constituents had we not taken this issue as far as we possibly could.”

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