Sunday, 27 May 2018

Bus is saved by parish councils, but not for long

A BUS route serving Whitchurch and Whitchurch Hill has been temporarily spared the axe.

A BUS route serving Whitchurch and Whitchurch Hill has been temporarily spared the axe.

Whitchurch and Goring Heath parish councils have agreed to jointly subsidise the final leg of Thames Travel’s 143 service, which connects the two villages to Reading via Pangbourne, Purley and Tilehurst.

This used to be funded by Oxfordshire County Council but it withdrew the subsidy earlier this year and the operator was planning to terminate the journey at Pangbourne from August rather than serve the villages on a commercial basis.

Now the parish councils have agreed to pay £5,500 each to keep it going until March 31, when the current financial year ends.

However, they say they cannot afford to pay for it after that and an alternative will be needed. This could be a regular minibus from the two villages to Pangbourne, where passengers could continue their journey on the 143, or an increase in the parishes’ share of council tax to extend the subsidy.

More discussions on this will take place over the coming months.

Several dozen people attended emergency meetings of both parish councils last week to urge members to save the service.

Peter Dragonetti, chairman of Goring Heath Parish Council, said: “Considering that we’re a small council, it’s going to cost quite a lot but there are a few people in the village who rely on it.

“We felt that if the service was cancelled entirely it would be very difficult to get it reviewed at a later date. By keeping it going, we’ve at least given ourselves a bit of breathing space.

“If more people use the 143 over the coming months, perhaps Thames Travel or another operator might be happy to carry it on at a lower level of subsidy.

“It’s not something the entire parish benefits from so I’m not sure whether we could extend the existing subsidy in the long term.

“Our precept would increase from about £40 per house to about £60 and I don’t know whether everyone would support that.”

Jim Donahue, vice-chairman of Whitchurch Parish Council, said: “We didn’t conduct a survey of exactly how many people used it but there was clear support within the community.

“There are residents who lack any alternative means of getting to Pangbourne or Reading, especially if they are older and no longer drive a car.

“Different people need the 143 for different reasons. We had the money to subsidise it for a while and felt it was important. We can now start thinking about a long-term solution.”

The councils have also persuaded the Whitchurch Bridge Company, which owns the village’s private toll bridge, to let the 143 cross for free. It previously paid £2.50 each time.

Geoff Weir, the bridge company secretary, said: “We were very happy to allow this as it saves Thames Travel, and thus the parish council, quite a bit of money.

“We wouldn’t have felt comfortable charging the bus once we knew the parish councils were paying for it. It didn’t feel right to us.”

Robin Tarsnane, whose 100-year-old mother Hilda Tarsnane lives in Whitchurch Hill and has severe dementia, feared she would have to go into a home when the county council announced it was cutting the 143’s subsidy.

As the Henley Standard reported in February, Mr Tarsnane said his mother’s live-in carers would struggle to travel into Reading and carry out her shopping and banking.

This week, he said: “This is a great result. I’d heard the subsidy was being continued but I had no idea the parish councils had stepped in, which is amazing.

“I’m very thankful and hope they can find a long-term solution.”

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