Planned cuts to bus subsidies in Ryedale and North Yorkshire could have a detrimental effect on the district’s market towns.
That was the warning from councillors and the public during North Yorkshire County Council’s Ryedale Area Committee at a packed Pickering Memorial Hall on Wednesday last week.
The county council is considering making cuts to the subsidies provided for several routes across the district, a move which could lead to a reduction in services or closure in the case of the town buses in Pickering and Malton and Norton.
It wants to axe £1.1 million – 25 per cent of the current subsidy budget – because it needs to save over £60 million.
But campaigners have launched petitions to save their respective services while councillors said the public should contact the council before a public consultation period ends in late November.
“The council wants to hear from the public and I would urge people to write to County Hall expressing their views,” said Cllr Val Arnold, the committee chairman.
Anne McIntosh, the MP for Thirsk, Malton and Filey, is also being asked to take on board the pleas of campaigners and rally the county’s MPs to lobby Parliament on the issue because of the impact the cuts will have on rural areas such as Ryedale.
However, there was a glimmer of hope given at the meeting by council transport chief Richard Owens who said there was “a good chance” that Pickering’s town services could be retained because they were so well used.
He said that the Pickering services cost the authority £28,000 a year and £18,000 in Malton and Norton.
Cllr Linda Cowling, leader of Ryedale District Council, expressed fears that cuts in the subsidies could lead to social exclusion for many people. She said: “No one can estimate the economic damage to our towns.”
One 90-year-old Pickering resident said that cuts in subsidies would result in her losing her independence. “I like shopping in Pickering but I can’t afford a taxi fare of £3.50 each way from my home,” she said.
Pickering Town Council, meanwhile, has agreed to oppose the cuts after hearing representations from the public.
Eden Blyth, of the Northern Ryedale Public Transport Group, said: “Our bus services are now at an absolute minimum - possibly below that level in some cases.”
Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Sue Cowan, the Mayor of Pickering, said she had spoken to doctors in the town to let them know about the “enormous ramifications” if the town bus service is cancelled which, she predicted, could end up with them making more home visits.
“It is all linked,” she said. “I am involved with a Loneliness in Older People survey and if the town bus is withdrawn then that will be the biggest contributing factor to isolation and loneliness.”
And County Cllr Elizabeth Shields, who represents Norton at county hall in Northallerton, said: “These buses are essential for access to such places as the surgery, the hospital, dentists, and shops.
“The cost of the subsidy for the Norton and Malton bus route is £18,000 per year. Now, no one would deny that this is a lot of money, but in terms of the county council, which deals in thousands of millions, it is a drop in the ocean.”