Parents have reacted with anger following council proposals to cut some school bus routes which they say would force children to walk through unlit woodland in areas that carry a 60mph speed limit and without footpaths.
As part of a programme of £10.6m in cuts across the district, one proposal currently out for consultation is the removal of provision for bus routes to schools which are considered to have an acceptable walking route as an alternative.
As reported in this week's newspaper, if approved by West Berkshire Council, five bus routes would be either closed or substantially reduced from April 2016 – affecting Aldermaston Primary School, Kennet School, Shefford Primary School, Chieveley Primary School and The Willink School
Other measures in the proposal include scrapping the council subsidy for both the fare payer scheme for bus users and the discretionary transport fund for primary school children.
In response to the proposals, a group of concerned parents of The Willink children have set up a campaign group to fight the changes after it was revealed that one of the routes affected would result in more than 230 pupils from the school having to walk through unlit woodland and along 60mph roads without footpaths.
The campaign group – Save Our Buses – organised a campaign walk held this morning (Monday), starting at the Horse and Groom pub at 7.45am, inviting councilors to walk the route they are expecting some of the district’s children to walk.
They have also launched a simultaneous petition opposed to the plans.
Co-founder of the group, Helen Symington, who has one child already at the school and another due to start next September, said: “Faced with the bus being cut and no safe walking route available, I will have to drop and collect my children every day.
“I will have to ask my employer if I may finish earlier and could potentially lose my job, if reduced hours won’t work.
“I am very happy for my children to walk to school along roads with paths, but completely disagree that West Berks Council have proposed an acceptable, safe route.
“Their route has areas that flood, goes through dense woodland and requires crossing fast country roads with no paths or verges and 60mph speed limits.”
The group’s official response to the proposal states: “The proposed walking route between Mortimer and The Willink is entirely unreasonable and in fact unsafe.
“It passes through dense woodland where the way is unlit, unmarked, and the path is unmade. This makes the route unsafe from a view of personal safety.
“It turns on to the main road between Tadley and Reading, at a point where its speed limit is 60mph, where there is no footpath, making the route unsafe from a view of traffic safety.”
In its proposals West Berkshire Council points out that parents are legally responsible for making sure that their children get to and from school, including ensuring provision when parents have work commitments.
West Berkshire Council spokesperson Martin Dunscombe said in response: “We’re currently consulting on a number of budget proposals for next year but no decisions will made until the consultation has closed and the response to the consultation carefully considered.
“Our consultation gives local people the chance to tell us how the proposals will impact on them and make suggestions about what could be done to reduce their impact.
“Anyone concerned about the proposal should take part in the consultation to make sure their views count.”