Council defends consultation over but service cuts

Darlington and Stockton Times: SERVICE CUTS: The headquarters of North Yorkshire County Council, which is consulting about reducing the number of bus services. SERVICE CUTS: The headquarters of North Yorkshire County Council, which is consulting about reducing the number of bus services.

A COUNCIL planning to cut numerous bus services has defended its public consultation exercise after claims that the majority of bus passengers were struggling to air their views.

North Yorkshire County Council said it had made every effort to make its consultation over the changes, which started in August and ends on November 25, as inclusive as possible.

The authority, which is aiming to making £92m of savings by March 2015, spends £4.4m a year subsidising the 20 per cent of bus journeys which are not commercially viable.

The council said it was working to ensure many communities retained a basic bus service to their nearest market town, and that a network of bus services between towns was maintained.

Campaigners said some elderly and infirm people, who make up 70 per cent of the area’s bus users, could be left housebound by cuts to services in market towns such as Northallerton and Thirsk, yet remained ignorant about the proposals.

Paul Fisher, secretary of Hambleton Over Fifties Forum, said while it had been suggested dial-a-ride services could help those hardest hit, it would struggle to make up for the 95,000 and 55,000 passenger journeys in Northallerton and Thirsk annually.

He said: “If you take these buses off people we are staring at isolation and loneliness and elderly and infirm people being unable to get to the doctors or hospital.

“The council seems to have a death wish for the High Street and I am surprised shopkeepers and market traders are not jumping up and down as many people rely on buses to get to town centres.”

Mr Fisher said the forum would hold a stall to help elderly people with the consultation at Thirsk Market on November 18, having already held a similar event in Northallerton.

At meetings of both Sowerby Parish and Thirsk Town councils, members voiced frustration that elderly people were struggling to find where they could fill in questionnaires or to complete online forms.

Members of the town council agreed to make forms available at its office.

A county council spokeswoman said as part of the consultation it had posted information on its website, displayed posters in buses and advertised in libraries that printed copies of the consultation document are available in libraries throughout the county.

She said:”The county council has also consulted Age UK in North Yorkshire and older people’s forums among over 140 statutory consultees, including parish and district councils , schools and colleges. It has also consulted with 18,000 businesses.”

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