Horsham blamed over bus failure

'LACK of involvement by Horsham District Council' has been blamed for a failure to include the Steyning area in a new scheme to improve public transport along the coast.

The accusation was made this week by county councillor Derek Deedman (LDem, Bramber Castle), who said HDC's only interest was 'links to Horsham town'.

His comments came after West Sussex County Council proudly announced a five year partnership to boost the south coast bus service between Portsmouth and Brighton.

But HDC said it had not been approached by the county council about the project, and therefore could not be accused of lack of involvement or interest.

WSCC unveiled its plan this week for the 700 bus route, with aims to increase passengers numbers by 50 per cent over the next five years.

It will use a new fleet of modern, fully accessible, low emission buses and electronic timetable information signs.

Devices will be fitted to give buses priority at traffic junctions.

The partnership has been signed by Stagecoach South with the county council and a number of other local authorities.

Mr Deedman had been hoping the scheme, previously referred to as the 'coastal fastway', could benefit the rural communities in the south of the Horsham district, with bus routes linking areas like Steyning with the 700 service.

When the details were revealed and no mention was made of the Horsham district, he asked the county council why.

He said the response was: "The quality partnership is one of the building blocks to making a real difference to services in the coastal area, but in itself it does no more than formalise the commitment of the various parties to work towards a common vision.

"Unless we get some serious government funding through the TIF (which is far from certain) we are likely to make slow, though hopefully steady, progress.

"It is difficult at this stage to predict when this incremental approach would produce the sort of improvements in services to the Steyning area that you would like to see. Sorry to be vague on this, but that's the situation we are in."

He said TIF was Transport Initiative Funding, a specific grant from the Government which depends on how the county's innovative bids compare with those from elsewhere in allocating a limited sum of money.

Mr Deedman said: "Clearly one reason the Steyning area is at the back of any public improvements tied in with the coastal fastway is the lack of any involvement by Horsham District Council.

"Horsham District Council appears to only be interested, if they have any interest, with links to Horsham town.

"Few people in this area want any such improvements to Horsham anyway, because most want to go to the coast for services, further education, employment etc.

"And, as we are not part of the coastal district/borough councils, those councils see no reason to consider improving public transport links to Steyning."

Mr Deedman said he would keep reminding the county council of the public needs of the Steyning area in the hope that 'eventually we will get some action'.

Cabinet member for Strategic Land Use Planning at Horsham District Council David Jenkins said: "Our constructive response to what has been said is that in this particular case the county council has not sought our involvement with or support to the Route 700, so we can not be justifiably accused of lack of involvement or interest.

"Whilst the district council is not the transport authority, we continue to work with the county council on a large number of transport initiatives.

"It is worth pointing out that whenever we are approached by the county council to assist with appropriate initiatives or support Quality Bus Partnerships, we will try to respond positively in whatever way we can, as we are with the Route 98 QBP at present."