04:59PM, Wednesday 17 March 2021
Holyport residents and supporters of SEND (special education needs) students are among those who have spoken out against some of the proposed changes to school transport fees.
The council has launched a consultation on possible changes to concessions, which include a recommendation to remove discounts for Holyport-based students travelling to Cox Green School.
Also on the table is an option for SEND students aged 16 and above to be charged in accordance to the distance travelled, as opposed to a flat rate.
Opposition councillor Gurch Singh (Lib Dem, St Mary’s) said: “[The consultation] has come as quite a surprise to me. Any changes to the current policy of home-school transport will undoubtedly have a serious impact on our most vulnerable families.
“I question the timing of this consultation as we emerge from lockdown restrictions.”
William Crossley of Autism Berkshire said that if there was an increase in fees for SEND pupils depending on the distance travelled, it would unfairly penalise those already struggling.
“We appreciate that the council is in a difficult financial position but we would be concerned if families were to find themselves staring down the barrel of a big hike in what they were paying,” he said.
“There are only a limited number of specialist units for autistic pupils. If a school in the local areas doesn’t have that, they will inevitably have to travel further. It’s about finding the best fit.”
He added that at the current time, Autism Berkshire has seen a ‘substantial increase’ in demand for benefits and universal credit among those its supports.
“There shouldn’t be a penalty for those who have to travel longer distances, for families that have high outgoings anyway", he said.
Bray Parish Council member Brian Millin is against the changes suggested for Holyport village.
“[The council] are saying that they wish Holyport residents to be assessed by the same rules as all their residents, but the fact remains that secondary school education is poorly served in this part of the borough,” he said.
“The bus service is poor and it’s always been an issue. There are no real alternatives – you have to use the bus or the car. Cycling to Cox Green is not an option, it’s not safe.”
He added that the proposals were ‘purely driven by financial necessity’ and do not meet the Royal Borough’s other criteria, such as its climate policy.
“Withdrawing the bus passes will lead to increased car journeys along the A308, an already overloaded and polluted road,” he said.
Lead member for transport at the Windsor and Maidenhead council, Councillor Gerry Clark, said: "We want to review what services need to be supported – and what services are not needed because usage is so low and costs are so high.
“If there are two people on a bus, it would be cheaper to get them a taxi. Bus operators are under extreme pressure from COVID-19.
“We have been extremely consultative because it’s really important that instead of having plans and then conversations, we shape what we’re doing by residents’ responses.”
He added that impacts on vulnerable groups was high on the council’s criteria for assessing need and coming up with sustainable alternatives.
To give a response to the consultation, complete the Home to School Transport Consultation survey at tinyurl.com/pkcpmzmc