A school bus service taking pupils from Willaston to Malbank in Nantwich is to be axed – despite vociferous protests by parents, teachers and councillors.
Cheshire East Council’s cabinet has upheld a previous decision to bring in a ‘walking route’ instead – which will take Willaston pupils over the London Road level crossing (pictured).
Many fear this is compromising safety passing through the level crossing and along busy town roads.
Pupils and staff from Malbank, including headteacher Jeanette Walker, joined their local councillors to protest outside Cheshire East headquarters in Sandbach yesterday when the Cabinet decision was made.
Mrs Walker (pictured, right) told the hearing she had ‘huge reservations’ about safeguarding on pupils.
And Nantwich Independent Cllr Arthur Moran accused Cheshire East of failing to live up to its slogan of “putting residents first”.
But council planners claim Network Rail has assured them that the level crossing is safe.
The changes will be brought in September 2017.
A Cheshire East spokesman said “highways improvements will be made to some routes where parents and schools have expressed concern over lighting and safety”.
There will be road safety workshops, ‘bikeability’ training, 20mph zones around schools, supporting schools in the development of walking routes, investing in crossing patrols and improvements to footpaths and public rights of way on school routes.
Cllr Liz Durham, cabinet member for children and families said: “It is only fair the council should no longer fund free school transport where walking routes are assessed as being available because they meet the recognised national criteria.
“It is the responsibility of parents or carers to ensure their child gets to school safely and not that of the council.
“We are not compelling children to walk these routes but they are assessed as being ‘available’ if parents feel this is appropriate.
“Many parents accompany their children or ensure they get to school by car, bike or public transport.
“Our recommendation is about fairly, equitably and consistently applying an existing policy and government guidelines, which apply to all schools across the country.
“Personal safety has been raised as an issue, but walking to school is not compulsory.
“Parents must make the decision on how best to get their children to school safely and we are hoping that schools will engage with us in pursuing the best implementation of the future travel plans for their pupils.”
The routes were first approved in June but the decision was recalled by the council’s overview and scrutiny committee.
Free transport is provided to primary pupils who have to walk two miles or more to school and to secondary school pupils who would have to walk three miles or more.
Councils are required by law to provide free travel where a pupil lives within the statutory walking distance to school but does not have a walking route available.
A total of 1,152 Cheshire East students are currently receiving home-to-school transport because no walking route is available – which represents 35 per cent of children entitled to transport provision.
This compares with figure of 26.5 per cent in Cheshire West and Chester and just 10 per cent in Staffordshire.