BUSES: Council passes motion demanding hourly buses in every village
Councillors are demanding hourly buses in every South Gloucestershire village that has more than 300 residents.
But a debate at full council about improving services descended into political bickering after the ruling Conservative group accused opposition Lib Dems of wanting to “sneak through” a U-turn in policy to introduce car parking charges, a claim they denied.
A motion tabled by Thornbury ward Lib Dem Cllr Jayne Stansfield asked members to endorse a report by CPRE, the countryside charity, highlighting the inadequacy of rural bus services and suggesting how improvements could be funded.
She told the meeting on Wednesday, May 21: “The motion is asking for South Gloucestershire Council to work with the West of England Combined Authority (Weca) mayor and the Department for Transport to deliver an effective network of buses throughout South Gloucestershire.
“Ideally we would like to see a bus every hour to every village above 300 people as proposed by the CPRE.
“This is ambitious but it can be done.”
She said the CPRE calculated that the goal could be achieved if money was diverted from projects such as planned road-building and invested in buses.
“If we do this, we will start to see sustainable communities in our rural areas and not just in our towns and the Bristol fringes.”
But the Tories latched onto the fact that the CPRE’s report also suggested introducing or increasing car parking charges, which is against the council’s longstanding policy of making them free to residents.
Car parking was not mentioned in Cllr Stansfield’s original motion but was altered by the Lib Dems shortly before the meeting to reaffirm the party’s commitment to free parking.
The Conservatives tabled an amendment which deleted a line supporting bus franchising and changed other wording so the burden to deliver better rural bus services fell more on Weca and metro mayor Dan Norris, who have responsibility for strategic transport in the region, rather than the council and leader Cllr Toby Savage, who is also Weca deputy mayor.
Cabinet member for regeneration, environment and strategic infrastructure Steve Reade said: “While I agree with the sentiment of this motion I am glad you have amended your original version and have acknowledged the error regarding the potential for recommending the removal of free parking services.
“But this motion does fail to recognise the major investment that has been made to enable and enhance bus services and bus provision.
“What I can say is we will continue to work with Weca on providing a better bus service and I actually look forward to working with the new West of England mayor in delivering on his promise of a better bus service.”
Cllr Savage said: “I welcome the Liberal Democrats’ U-turn this evening on free parking.
“Either they were seeking this council to endorse a report they haven’t read or they were seeking to sneak through an attempt to dump this council’s longstanding policy of free parking in our high streets or town centres, or they’ve read the report and it was a careless mistake.
“But I’m glad the Conservatives’ amendment highlighted this and inspired their own alteration.”
The Tories’ amended motion was passed. It was opposed by Lib Dems while Labour abstained.
Lib Dem leader Cllr Claire Young said afterwards: “I am pleased that, thanks to the work of the Liberal Democrat group, we have forced this issue onto the agenda and got the Conservative administration to acknowledge that our rural bus network is in dire need of investment.
“However, I am disappointed that, as is so often the case, the administration decided to play silly political games at Wednesday night’s meeting rather than work with councillors from other parties.
“We have genuine policy differences over, for example, bus franchising which the Liberal Democrats advocate and the Conservatives oppose.
“Unfortunately, it was not the issue of bus franchising, where we could have had a debate, that the Conservatives decided to focus their contribution, but on a wholly confected argument about car parking charges – which the Liberal Democrats opposed when we ran the council, have opposed in opposition and continue to oppose.”
Words: Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporter
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