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Raft of buses to be saved across Worcestershire in £1.1m rescue plan
A WAVE of threatened bus routes across Worcestershire are going to be saved - as council chiefs performed a significant u-turn on slashing an entire £3 million subsidy today.
After an unprecedented 8,500 responses over proposals to axe the subsidy to 97 buses, Worcestershire County Council has found £1.1 million to plug some of the gap.
The surprise move, which comes after weeks of pressure from campaigners, will see the routes deemed to be the most "essential" for people getting to work, school and the hospitals saved from the axe.
The development comes after your Worcester News revealed how schools, colleges, the NHS in Worcestershire, bus campaign bodies, operators, community groups, councils and massive numbers of people called for a reprieve.
The £1.1m, which is a provisional amount and could yet go up or down, will be made available from September, the month when the bus cuts will start.
Talks with operators will go into a new phase from now until the summer, with the council's Conservative leadership saying it wants the extra cash to fund the most important routes.
While it will not save all the routes, the cash will go a long way to securing the future of some services people have voiced most concern about.
The funding announcement was made during a cabinet meeting today, where public speakers turned up once again to plead for help.
Les Roberts, an Upton resident, said: "Every single bus service in Upton is a subsidised route.
"It you go ahead and remove the subsidy it is very likely Upton will have no bus services at all, which will be disastrous for the town.
"Residents fear very greatly for the future if this intent is carried through.
"Car ownership is far from universal, it will be a disaster."
Student Luke Bessant, 17, from Norton, who attends Pershore High School, said: "Taking away buses would limit the choice of school for many students like myself.
"Due to the infrequency of buses at the moment, many students get parents to drive them to school - surely reducing buses would only make this worse."
Operators will be expected to save some routes on their own by altering service frequencies or putting up prices.
But hopes are high that the £1.1 million will go some way to helping the situation.
Councillor Adrian Hardman, the leader, said the consultation response was "staggering".
"It will take a considerable amount of time to analyse the reponses but we are determined to end up with a sustainable, fair bus network," he said.
"We have listened to what people have said."
Councillor John Smith, the cabinet member for highways and transportation, said: "We're aware of the need for people to get to work, hospitals, schools, and we'll do all we can to meet the need for that.
"Each route needs to be looked at, and every response."
The £3 million public transport subsidy funds Worcester's two park and rides, and swathes of evening and weekend services, as well as scores of urban routes.
It makes up 20 per cent of the total bus network in Worcestershire.
A report is due out in May or June about what routes have been saved.
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