Saturday, 28 November 2020

Councillors pledge to save bus services

A FORMER Mayor has pledged to retain Henley’s bus services “come hell or high water”

A FORMER Mayor has pledged to retain Henley’s bus services “come hell or high water”.

The Whites Coaches services are under threat after Oxfordshire County Council decided to stop subsidising many services from July 20.

The company runs four routes in the town as well as a bus between Woodcote and Henley and a school service between Gillotts School and Caversham.

South Oxfordshire district councillor Lorraine Hillier plans to donate £4,000 from her allocation in the new councillors’ personal budgets to keep the buses going.

However, these will not take effect until April next year, meaning that Whites will need £13,000 to run services until March 31.

Cllr Hillier, who recently finished her term as mayor, said the buses had to be retained.

“We are going to fund it so there isn’t a gap in service,” she said. “We need a short-term plan for this year and then we can start looking at the longer term. If the buses aren’t making a profit it doesn’t matter because this is for the community and it’s important. There is a lot of good will and positivity about it.”

She said the town council could donate £10,000 and that the district council had some money left from developer contributions.

Cllr Hillier said: “We are looking at what else we can do but come hell or high water we will get the money to keep this going.”

New Mayor Julian Brookes said the £13,000 was the maximum costs of services every weekend from 9am to 3pm.

He said a meeting of councillors and bus users on Thursday last week heard some concerns about the reliability of buses, especially in the afternoons.

“That’s something we will follow up on,” said Councillor Brookes. “We will hold feet to the fire to make sure what we are paying for is delivered.

“In the long term, the council will formalise a working group which will look into options. There may be something from the county council or money could be raised through advertising.

“The trick is to get as many people as possible on the bus, which makes it a more sustainable service.”

Councillor Stefan Gawrysiak, a former mayor who also plans to donate £4,000 from his councillor’s personal budget, said: “We are in a situation where we need a short-term fix and then a longer-term fix.

“In the short term we should make sure Whites stays in Henley — it’s a wonderful social service for residents. Whites does 30,000 journeys per year and it’s a service people want. It’s more than just a bus, lots of people use it for social engagement.”

Town clerk Janet Wheeler said: “The county council is happy to help us and Whites put together a business plan so we aren’t seen to just be giving money to prop up a business.”

The Henley Handibus is also providing a new route. The free service, which began on May 10, will serve Nettlebed, Howe Hill, Pishill and Stonor, the Assendons and Henley. Six people have signed up already.

It will run every second and fourth Tuesday of the month and will pick up from Nettlebed at 9.30am. It will initially run for a three-month trial period.

Richard Hodgkin, a trustee of the charity, said the bus would drop passengers off at Tesco or Waitrose in Henley to do their shopping.

Mr Hodgkin said: “We’re delighted that we can offer this service to the community in this area. We’re not charging passengers anything for it on the basis that they’ll all have bus passes. Oxfordshire County Council is not withdrawing any bus pass grants and we’re funded on that basis.”

The charity is looking for new drivers. If you can help, call Mr Hodgkin on (01491) 573192.

In February, the county council approved cuts of £3.7million to its subsidised transport services budget. Almost half of the 118 subsidised routes in the county will still run without subsidy thanks to operators agreeing to continue them with amended timetables.

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