Fears over bus routes axe if Government funding not found

MAIDENHEAD 133976-9

The Royal Borough says that Government funding is ‘important’ to support bus services after a council membership body raised concerns over the future of routes if emergency cash is not found.

The Local Government Association (LGA) claimed that ‘cherished and essential’ bus routes may be axed from the end of March if funding support is not extended.

The Bus Recovery Grant was introduced by the Department of Transport (DfT) last year, providing authorities with £255.5million due to sharp declines in passenger numbers.

However, the LGA says that Westminster is yet to clarify if this emergency measure is due to be extended beyond the end of next month, leading to concerns that routes will no longer remain viable.

The body added that this cash is ‘crucial’ if the Government is to achieve its ‘Bus Back Better’ strategy, announced last year, which promised investment in more routes.

Councils are required to publish individual Bus Service Improvement Plans (BSIP) to set out its ambitions for bus travel, with the Royal Borough’s approved by cabinet in October.

Councillor Gerry Clark (Con, Bisham and Cookham), lead member for transport, said that the Maidenhead and Windsor plan has been submitted to the DfT.

“We await its decision on any award which would enable us to progress our ambitious plans,” he added.

“We continue to engage with operators, communities and other stakeholders on the delivery of measures within the outline plan, and explore new funding opportunities to support delivery of better bus services.

“The bus industry has been hit hard by the pandemic with passenger numbers down across the country.

“We believe that further funding from the DfT is important to support its ongoing recovery and this is the feedback we are hearing from operators in the borough.”

Cllr Clark added that the council has put further funding into supporting bus routes as part of next year’s final budget, which will be debated by councillors at a key meeting on Tuesday.

“This recognises that further support might be required to maintain and build on our current network,” he said.

Cllr David Renard, transport spokesman for the LGA, added: “Passenger numbers have not returned to those seen before the pandemic and without continued support, it is clear that some routes will no longer be viable and will have to be reduced.

“This will have a devastating impact on people who rely on these services. The Bus Recovery support grant must be urgently extended beyond the end of March.”

A DfT spokesman said: "We have provided unprecedented support for local transport during the pandemic, with over £1.7 billion made available to keep bus services running across the country.

“We continue to listen to the sector and work closely with operators and local transport authorities to support network planning after April, ensuring all possible steps are taken to protect services.”

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