Carbrooke Parish Council objects to proposed school bus cuts

Proposed Norfolk County Council footpath

The old World War 2 bunker on the proposed footpath to school.

Norfolk County Council have announced plans to cancel the two buses that transport over 100 children from Blehneim Granage and the other Norwich Road estates to Carbrooke Primary school.  The matter is under consultation by Norfolk County Council and will involve a meeting at the Queen’s Hall in Watton this evening where parents and other interested parties will be able to air their views.  The Council are proposing to replace the buses, which costs £60,000 a year, with an upgraded footpath which they say will provide health benefits for both children and parents.

The Parish Council are opposed to these changes as it believes the proposed walking route to be unsafe for a number of reason.  At it’s monthly meeting on 19th November the  Parish Council put together it’s official response to the County Council’s proposal which follows below:

CARBROOKE PARISH COUNCIL

21 November 2014

Letter to Norfolk County Council

The Parish Council has serious reservations concerning the Norfolk County Council proposal to improve the walking and cycling provision between Blenheim Grange and the Carbrooke School and stop the school bus service. It has decided to object strongly unless Norfolk County Council can give satisfactory responses to the questions below:

Decision making. We are concerned that this proposal has been put forward without full consideration of the specific issues within the parish and the effects on the children and their families. These include:

Effects on schooling. Around 60 per cent of the children at Carbrooke School (more than a hundred pupils) come from the Blenheim Grange and Norwich Road Estates and use the two buses provided. More than 70 per cent of the houses at Blenheim Grange are used for social housing. The school is above the national average in both truancy and special needs. Given these figures and the large number of children involved, could the Council explain how it believes their proposal will help some of the county’s most deprived children to access the school?

Health benefits. The reason that the Council has used to justify its proposal is to say it will bring health benefits. Given that the children are aged between 4 and 11 and will have to undertake a four mile daily walk quite often in bad weather and sometimes in the dark, could the council explain its reasoning for thinking that their proposal will bring health benefits?

Parents’ employment prospects. The children at Carbrooke School are aged between 4 and 11 and most parents will not feel it is safe for them to walk such a long distance on their own, particularly in the light of safety issues raised below. As a result, they will have to walk their children to and from school. We estimate that these two journeys will take up three hours of their day. Given the employment issues at Blenheim Grange, can the Council explain their thinking in believing that the removal of the bus will help hard working families trying to find or maintain a job?

Safety. Along the proposed route, we have serious concerns about the children’s safety and are concerned that the Council has not given enough consideration about how to keep them out of danger. These include:

The road between Caudle Springs and the School. The road is extremely narrow with a number of blind corners, ditches and steep banks. The Council cannot see how children walking down it will not be placed in serious danger of an accident. It is usually advised that pedestrians should walk in the opposite direction to oncoming traffic on a road with no footpath, but there are stretches of the road where children will have to walk in the same direction as the traffic. Could the Council explain in detail how they intend to make this walkway safe for children particularly given the large number that will be using it?

Accessibility. The walking route will need to be accessible for parents with younger children in pushchairs and prams. Can the Council provide details of how the walking route will be made accessible for pushchair and prams along the whole length?

The footpath between the Aerolite Garage and the School. There are a number of ditches that the children will have to cross. Given that there are a large number of children and they may be walking in near darkness, how can the Council guarantee they will be safe when walking this route? Will the Council provide lighting in these areas?

The footpath between the Aerolite Garage and the School. The police have voiced concerns that they have had issues at the bottom of the footpath with people drinking and taking drugs near the old military installation. Can the Council provide details of how they will help to alleviate the risk of crime there? Will they provide lighting at this part of the path?

The entrance to the footpath at the Aerolite Garage. A busy garage and MOT centre stand at the entrance to the footpath. The owner of the business there has already expressed concern about Norfolk County Council’s proposal because of the large number of vehicles using the site. Can the Council provide details of the traffic system it intends to enforce at the entrance to the footpath so that it is not dangerous for a large number of children to pass through?

The end of the footpath at Caudle Springs. The footpath had no delineation and comes out at a place that is clearly used by agricultural machinery and for sugar beet storage. Can the Council explain how this part of the footpath will be clearly defined to avoid large numbers of children having to walk across a working agricultural yard?

Methodology. We do not believe that the methodology the Council has used is correct and so has not given a realistic assessment of the proposal. In particular we are concerned about the following:

Walking distance to school. The Council appears to have carried out an office/software study only without taking into account that children should use designated footpaths and road crossings. There is not a complete footpath on the route the County Council has chosen. Both the Chair and deputy Chair of the parish council plus other parishioners have walked the proposed route and we believe that it is more than two miles from the top of Blenheim Grange to the school if one uses the footpaths and designated road crossings. Indeed, it was calculated at 2.3 miles so meaning that a significant number of houses on the Blenheim Grange estate need to be provided with a bus as they are outside the two mile radius of the school and so should be provided with free transport under the Council’s Home to School Transport Policy. It should also be remembered that a significant number of new houses are currently being constructed at the top end of Blenheim Grange. Could the Council confirm that it has only carried out an office study and reassess the route given that the path it has chosen does not have a complete footpath?

Costs. The budget allowed for the improvements to the footpath and the improvements to Caudle Springs and Drury Lane (for which we have been told a figure of £50,000) seems inadequate given the length of the route and the major work which would be needed along the road to make it safe and enable children to cross ditches, not have to walk along tall banks etc. Could the Council supply detailed information about the work to be done along Caudle Springs and Drury Lane and confirmation that funding is available to complete this?

Traffic issues. We are concerned that stopping the bus will result in many more cars making the journey from Blenheim Grange and the Norwich Road estates to the school as many parents will not feel it is right to make their children walk to school in bad weather so are likely to take them to school in their cars. The school is situated in the centre of the village, the route being along narrow country roads. This will of course make the journey on foot more hazardous than it would be at present due to increased traffic flow.

Summer Lane, Caudle Springs and Drury Lane. The increase in the amount of traffic on these roads will cause congestion problems as cars can only pass at passing places which are sparsely spaced. Has the Council done a study to assess the increase in traffic which will result and the effects of this? Will the Council be prepared to increase the number of passing spaces? Can the Council confirm that they will adopt Summer Lane for gritting in the winter months?

Parking at Carbrooke School. There have been considerable issues in the past over parking at Carbrooke School at peak times. This has been alleviated by many children taking the bus. Given that the Council wants to take this away, can it confirm what plans it has to prevent dangerous driving, bad parking and congestion in the village at peak times?

In general, the Parish Council feel that this proposal, on an important matter which has serious implications for the children of the parish, has been made in a rushed fashion with a lack of consultation with those (including the Parish Council) who have an understanding of the local issues. We have been given no indication about the timescale for the consultation and are concerned that the Council’s lack of transparency in this process is designed to limit opportunities for considered feedback. Whilst we understand that the County Council has policies within which it must work, interpretation of these policies must take place within a wider context, in this case the particular situation at Blenheim Grange, a large estate with little or no community facilities, and a high proportion of social housing and social deprivation which is located some distance away from a rurally located village school yet is providing the majority of the children to that school.

We look forward to hearing answers to these questions at the meeting at Queens Hall on 25th November. We would also like to invite you and your officers to come and walk the path with us and talk through the issues raised in this letter.

Yours sincerely

Frances Needham, Parish Clerk

The chair and vice chair of the Parish council walked the full route which can be seen in the video below:

Maps of the proposed route can be found by clicking the links below:

Map PROW

Map Drury Lane

The Parish Council has been proactive in getting press coverage for the issued raised above and has been featured in the Watton and Swaffham Times, The Breckland View and BBC Radio Norfolk.

We have been overwhelmed by the amount of anger and objections to the proposals by parents from the school.  I was at the bus stop this morning talking to parents and not one was happy with walking the proposed route to school.  Those with cars said they would drive their children to the school while others said that they would consider changing schools.” said Debbie Muller, chair of the Parish Council ” I am sure that these parents will make their concerns very clear at the meeting this evening and I hope that the County Council takes them firmly on board when making their final decision”.

Carbrooke school children give the thumbs down to the new walking route.

Carbrooke school children give the thumbs down to the new walking route.

 

 

 

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