I WRITE on behalf of Cowfold Parish Council to express its deep sense of alarm and betrayal concerning the proposed withdrawal of the 86 bus service between Horsham and Haywards Heath and to urge West Sussex County Council to modify its plans such that the service can be retained.
We appreciate that cuts have to be made within the County (even though we were shocked by the revelation that West Sussex receives approximately one third of the grant per head of other counties) but feel that the withdrawal of the bus service will have an irreversible impact on the fabric of parish life.
Once again, villages are being hit rather than urban communities which have many more transport options for essential journeys such as those to schools and hospitals.
Once again, the most vulnerable in our society – the youth and elderly – are being affected the most.
It is believed that the process is being rushed through far too quickly to consider fully the long term impact of the cuts on rural life and the primary focus of WSCC is seen to be on reducing the expenditure in the short term.
Although there have been some suggestions for alternative community transport services these are currently too vague and immature and it is imperative that time is allowed to properly weigh up the options before a final decision is made.
The arguments associated with retaining the 86 bus service were covered in detail at the public meeting held in the Village Hall on 8 June 2011 and it is not appropriate to rehearse them here.
We note, however that approach of the WSCC cross party working group was to determine which categories of services were of greatest benefit to residents in West Sussex and should therefore be either continued and considered again in later phases.
These services comprise:
Those routes which carry people that we (WSCC) have a legal duty to transport, e.g. eligible school children.
Those routes that serve isolated rural communities.
Those routes where there are no alternatives.
Those routes which help maintain access to key services such as hospitals, shopping and work at appropriate times of day.
It will be claimed that Cowfold children are within the catchment area of Horsham secondary schools and the students who travel by bus to Warden Park School in Cuckfield are not eligible; in addition to the fact that the Horsham schools are single sex schools which limits the educational choices available to parents, it is understood that, in any event, there are insufficient free spaces to accommodate our students if affordable transport services were not in place for Warden Park School.
Further, although there is currently still a service between Horsham and Brighton, this not seen to be a real alternative to the 86 bus route as, for example, it provides no access to hospitals and severely limits the job opportunities for Cowfold residents who cannot afford a car.
When these comments are taken into account, the 86 bus service is seen to fit within all of the above categories.
Therefore, we fail to understand why the 86 bus service should not be continued and considered again in a later phase.
It can only be that budget savings are being made without any real regard for the communities which the County Council is supposed to be serving and nurturing.
This is not the first withdrawal of bus route or reduction in services which has been imposed on our and other neighbouring villages in recent years and we believe that this latest proposal is cutting into the very heart of rural life.
On behalf of all residents who look to you for stewardship and for the preservation of our society, we implore the council to take a hard look at the long term impact of what they are doing and try to find a better way forward.
MRS J B WRIGHT
Clerk to Cowfold Parish Council,
c/o 117 Acorn Avenue, Cowfold