Council gives in over school transport row

PARENTS in Acton are celebrating after Suffolk County Council caved to pressure to help 18 children in the village get to their school.

Last week, the Free Press reported that families across the county had been told that buses would not be laid on for their children who attend schools outside their catchment area, just two weeks before the start of term.

Suffolk County Council has now reached an agreement with Beestons bus company to run a double-decker bus through Great Waldingfield, Little Waldingfield, Acton and Stoke-by-Nayland instead of a single decker. This will provide spaces until the end of the school year for 18 children from Acton who attend Stoke-by-Nayland Middle School.

Johann Ince, of Browns Close, whose daughter Emily, 12, and son Oliver, 10, go to the school, said: “Everyone here was really pleased that the council worked with us. Since all the hype last week, I think it could understand the repercussions of the original decision.”

Mrs Ince had worried she would have to move Emily, Oliver and eight-year-old Charlie, who attends Acton Primary School, to join daughter Georgia at schools in Great Cornard.

The first day of the double-decker bus’ operation went smoothly yesterday, with many parents turning out to ensure there were no problems.

As part of the agreement, the council will manage the administration and provide passes, which will cost parents their normal rate of £190 per term, on behalf of Beestons.

Stoke-by-Nayland Middle School headteacher David Livingstone said he was pleased the issue had been resolved.

“It means that all those children can continue to come here, which is what we always wanted,” he said. “This is the best solution for parents and pupils.”

Councillor Graham Newman, the council’s cabinet member for education and young people, said that the council was only able to sell spare seats if it had them available, which was not the case this year.

“However, we are mindful of the number of families affected by this policy when the change in availability has arisen purely because the school their children attend is going through the process of reorganisation,” said Mr Newman.

“We’ve therefore secured an agreement with Beestons which will see them provide extra spaces, to the end of the school year, that these families can purchase.”

A council spokesman stressed that this did not represent a u-turn on its discretionary transport policy for the county.

Beverley Wright, from Lindsey Tye near Hadleigh, took two days off work this week to get her daughter Natasha to Great Cornard Upper School.

The council decided in June that Chambers bus company would run her daughter’s route from Hadleigh, while Beestons has stopped running past the school, despite Mrs Wright asking them to run a school service.

“I am upset – I have just been left high and dry by Suffolk County Council,” she said, referring to the two weeks’ notice of the change given to parents. She said county councillor James Finch had spoken to the council on the issue.