BOROUGH chiefs have agreed to look for a solution to an ‘unfair’ transport policy that rural families say is dividing their communities.

Cheshire West and Chester Council’s current home to school transport policy means that youngsters are not eligible for transport if the school they attend is not the closest one to their home – even if they live in their school’s catchment area, and further than three miles away.

Rural residents have spoken out about the policy, insisting it splits young friends up when they move from primary to secondary school, and forces more parents to drive their youngsters to school.

One initial proposal to tackle the issue was rejected at CWAC’s cabinet meeting on Wednesday – but members committed to see if an affordable solution could be found instead.

Oakmere resident Nicola Gibson has two children attending Tarporley High School but neither is eligible for transport, and she told cabinet there is no viable public transport available.

Her family lives closer to Weaverham High School, but they attended Delamere Academy which is a feeder school for Tarporley.

Nicola said: “The council has declared a climate emergency, yet we drive every morning, and sometimes twice after school dependent on activities.

“The bus stops next to our house, and my kids watch as their eligible friends get on, and we then proceed to follow that bus to Tarporley – adding to the already problematic congestion.”

READ > Freeview users may need to re-tune their TVs as channels move to new airwaves

Liam Martin, deputy headteacher at Tarporley High School, told councillors that the policy is ‘unfair and divisive’ and has affected ‘hundreds of parents’.

He said: “[Students] have to go to different schools, they have to go to schools with people they haven’t been to primary school, they don’t understand – they are 11 years old at the time.

“The uncertainty, the impact it has on families over a prolonged period of time is dramatic.”

Cllr Eveleigh Moore Dutton, independent member for Tarporley, spoke of two Little Budworth families who were told they had to go to Winsford Academy – despite no school bus or public transport being available, which there was for Tarporley High School.

She said: “For two of the families involved, the bus to Tarporley literally went past their driveway, but they were told no they could not go on that bus – they had to go to Winsford.

Winsford Guardian:

“And as there was no bus to that, the alternative was a taxi daily.”

The problem was explored by a cross-party group of councillors led by Cllr Harry Tonge, Conservative member for Tarvin and Kelsall, who told cabinet the policy ‘divides communities’ – with even siblings not guaranteed transport for the same school as availability changes from one year to the next.

The group produced four recommendations and cabinet members agreed to adopt three of them – to allow officers more flexibility in school transport appeals, to launch an interactive system for parents to see which schools their child could secure transport, and to introduce a common form for both school admissions and transport applications.

But cabinet members decided not to introduce one of the recommendations for ‘frozen transport zones’ that would make students eligible for transport to both their nearest school and their catchment school.

Labour Cllr Nicole Meardon, who was cabinet member for children and families while the scrutiny work took place, warned the proposal would not be affordable.

Winsford Guardian:

She said: “There just isn’t enough funding available to local government. The children’s budget has underlying pressures of nearly £4.6 million – our school transport budget is about £500,000 overspent.”

Labour Cllr Karen Shore, cabinet member for environment, highways and strategic transport, suggested she was sympathetic to the arguments made by residents affected by the policy.

She agreed that further work should take place to explore the costs of ‘frozen transport zones’ and whether an alternative solution could be found – inviting rural residents and schools to work with the council.

Cllr Shore said: “I do acknowledge the challenge and the frustration of parents, as well as acknowledging the safety concerns that have been raised and the concerns around the climate emergency.

“We all have a responsibility to try and give our children the best start in life. We hear the frustration but we want to work with people in a progressive way to make that change.”