Norwich bus station help desk could be saved

Hopes were raised yesterday that the information desk and travel centre at Norwich Bus Station could be spared the axe after coach firm National Express suggested it could help run it.

Members of Norfolk County Council's environment, transport, and development overview and scrutiny committee yesterday considered feedback.

The highest number of responses were linked to plans to close the information desk at Norwich Bus Station and reduce the opening hours of the travel centre, cut the amount of verge cutting, and scrap the park-and ride subsidy.

But the council has received a suggestion from bus and coach company National Express proposing specific ways in which the firm could assist in maintaining the information desk including taking over its operation.

Other submissions included using volunteeers to man the desk, charging booking fees for some tickets and expanding the remit of the desk to include other forms of travel and tourist information. There was also a suggestion the building could be a library.

There were 79 responses to plans to scrap the �2m park-and-ride subsidy and close facilities such as the toilets with concerns the plans could increase congestion, and see the sites vandalised. Suggestions included using the normal bus network to include park-and-ride sites rather than a separate service, linking the sites so that the number of buses could be reduced and asking local businesses to help fund routes or sites particularly where their staff benefit from using it.

Insurance giant Aviva also told the council that the facility was important for helping employees get to the work and if reduced the firm would want to work with the council to explore defined parking policies.

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Fears were also raised about plans to cut back on work such as path cutting and focus on a core countryside network. Comments included concerns that parish councils or volunteers would lack the skills and capacity to take on some of the work.

Councillors also asked whether parishes agreeing to take on extra work would get any extra money for it.

Graham Plant, cabinet member for travel and transport, said: 'What we are asking them to do is identify in their district or parish what they would be willing to do. They can either volunteer or do it for less than what we are doing it for and we will fund them to do, or a bit of both. When they have decided what they would like to do we can have a discussion about how it's going to be funded.'

Green councillor Richard Bearman questioned why the council was putting �750,000 a year into funding work on the Norwich northern distributor road (NDR) at a time funding for dozens of smaller integrated transport schemes was being cut and there was so much uncertainty about the scheme.

But Mr Plant said the money spent was the 'absolute minimum' needed to keep the scheme ticking over.

Meanwhile the meeting also heard that a number of resondents had warned that the council could be at risk of a legal challenge for failing to provide the mimimum required level of services.

Mike Jackson, director of environment, transport, and development said: 'All the budget proposals in our view are within the statutory responsibilities, but in some areas it's coming closer to that point. Others may take their own view and there are areas all over the country not just in Norfolk where there could be challenges as to whether we are meeting out statutory duties. We have had one or two suggestions from some interest groups that they believe we will not be able to do that.

Members ot he children's services overview and scrutiny panel will consider meet at 2pm today to consider a range of cuts including axing funding for youth services