A COUNCILLOR has pledged to challenge a council’s decision to axe bus subsidies if rural and suburban communities face isolation.

Stockton Council has begun the process of consulting on the future of bus services after it ends its £300,000 subsidy it pays to companies including Compass Royston, Leven Valley, Arriva and Stagecoach for some rural, weekend and non-commercial routes.

The subsidy, which ends in March, helps keep services going in areas including Hartburn, Elton, Carlton, Cowpen Bewley, Kirklevington, The Clarences, Redmarshall, Stillington, Norton, Hilton and Wolviston.

Residents living in these areas will receive a questionnaire about the future of bus services, which will help the council work with the transport companies to decide where future routes are needed.

Last night Ken Lupton, ward councillor for Hartburn, said: “I will certainly not be happy if we have no bus services in these areas. The council is negotiating with the bus companies but if they are not successful with that the council will have to rethink their position because we can’t isolate those rural and semi urban communities.

“The elderly people have got to be able to get to the hospital services, doctors and the shops, and we have a significant number of elderly residents, particularly in Hartburn.

“I am prepared to wait until the end of January because that will allow the bus companies to have submitted their proposals. If they don’t provide services within Stockton I am afraid the council is going to have to rethink its position because we can’t have people in Stillington, Hartburn, and Port Clarence, who are totally isolated.”

A questionnaire on bus services is being delivered by Parish Councils, community groups and other partner organisations to residents who live in areas currently serviced by the affected bus routes.

Residents have until the 6 January 2014 to complete the questionnaire and the answers provided will be carefully assessed.

Stockton Council’s Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Transport, Councillor Mike Smith said: “Unfortunately the challenging financial times we are facing have left us with no option but to remove our £300,000 subsidy.

“However, we know how important it is for our residents to be able to access transport options which enable them to travel around the Borough and further afield. That’s why we are working with our partners from the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector as well as Town and Parish councils, to look for alternative ways to ensure transport arrangements are in place to suit our communities’ needs.

“I hope every resident who currently uses the affected routes completes and returns their questionnaire so we can fully understand their transport needs.

“This will help ensure we explore alternative solutions that address our residents’ circumstances.”

Residents can also complete the questionnaire online at www.surveymonkey.com/s/SBC_Transport_Survey_2013.