SCHOOL and council leaders have agreed a deal to maintain several school bus services after a move to suddenly withdraw them drew fury from parents and sparked a political storm.

Leaders of Darlington Borough Council and Carmel College in Darlington said they would jointly fund bus routes until at least Christmas after mounting criticism that pupils’ families had been given just three working days to arrange alternative transport.

Amid concerns school bus services for other Darlington schools could also be affected by Disability Discrimination Act stipulations, the authority said it would carry out a reviewing of school transport policy.

Parents of children at 1,260-student academy said they had been plunged into uncertainty on Tuesday evening after learning bus routes 201, 203 and 204 would not be operating after Friday.

In a letter to parents, the college stated it, Hummersknott and Hurworth schools had worked with Darlington Borough Council for many years to arrange home to school transport, and in recent years had charged £3 a day for the service.

However, it said with just days before Carmel’s bus contract was due to be renewed the council alerted the college to the fresh legislation that enshrined that all buses must have disabled access. This meant the price for providing some services had risen to £6 a day.

A college spokesman said “after careful consideration for alternative solutions, and being aware that £6 per day is not affordable for the majority of families”, and “with deepest regret”, some services would end. It suggested parents should consider car sharing, allowing their children to walk or cycle to school or buying an Arriva bus pass.

Parent Amanda Tansey said the sudden decision had left her with “no idea how my son will get to school from next week” as cycling was not practical in winter and options of buses from her area were few and far between. Another parent, Jane Murphy, described the action as an “absolute joke”. She added: “I like the way they say they have told us in a timely manner, what with less than a week’s notice.”

While the college’s letter highlighted it had been given no warning of the impending situation, the Conservative-run council’s leader Councillor Heather Scott said the authority had immediately responded after becoming aware of the situation.

She said: “We haven’t seen the details of the legislation. It’s a case of people not communicating with us. We could have dealt with it much quicker.”

Cllr Scott added the council’s previous Labour administration had reduced home to school transport in the borough to the statutory minimum.

However, the authority’s deputy Labour leader Councillor Chris McEwan said the council had allowed an “absolutely ridiculous” to develop. He said: “My heart goes out to these parents who have been thrown into confusion and distress.”

Jenny Chapman, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Darlington, questioned why the council “didn’t they see this coming and make alternative plans”. She said: “While there may not be a statutory obligation to provide transport to all children, the council does have a moral duty to allow children to continue their education at their current school and to make sure they can get there safely.”

Peter Gibson, the constituency’s Conservative candidate, added: “It is essential if changes like this are ever made that sufficient notice is given to ensure arrangements can be made. The schools and the council need to work together to resolve matters swiftly.”