Attempts to keep the rural 262 Saturday bus service running are still on the road, thanks to Uckfield Town Council agreeing to up its share of the subsidy needed.
Councillors heeded remarks from town mayor, Cllr Louise Eastwood, Trust Independent, Uckfield North, who said villages had little public transport and would suffer if the rescue attempt floundered.
The future of the 262 Saturday bus service, linking Forest Row with Heathfield, through Uckfield, initially looked to be safe after a group of local councils agreed a plan to underwrite costs.
The deal fell apart, councillors were told, when Forest Row pulled the plug on an agreement in principle based on all councils contributing a share, related to the number of council taxpayers in each community.
The town council had indicated it was likely to support the service, as long as Forest Row, Framfield, Maresfield and Heathfield councils chipped in the appropriate amounts.
Members of Uckfield’s general purposes committee on Monday (April 24) heard that Forest Row had pulled out because it wanted a different formula to decide on contributions. Under the taxpayer system, it would have paid around £1,300 pa.
Cllr Eastwood said the villages didn’t have a particularly fantastic bus service in the first place and if town councillors suddenly said ‘no’ to contributing then the other councils wouldn’t be able to find the funds to allow the bus service to continue.
Cllr Eastwood added: “I would like us to agree in principle but we need to know what the other three councils want to do. If they still want to go ahead with it, then we can go ahead with it.
“If one of those pulls out, it is not viable for us to continue with it.
Impact on villages
“I would hate to pull out tonight and impact on the villages.”
Councillors accepted, in principle, to provide a financial contribution towards the Saturday bus service, but on the proviso that Maresfield, Framfield and Heathfield parish councils contribute. If one other parish council pulls out, no financial contribution will be provided.
Last year the town council supported a request from the North Wealden Community Transport Partnership (NWCTP) to provide financial support to the Saturday 262 bus service which started in Hartfield and travelled to Uckfield, via the Ashdown Forest, Nutley and Maresfield; then returning to Hartfield via a circular route, also through the Ashdown Forest.
The aim was to provide a service for tourists/visitors to the area with a connection en route to get to Forest Row and East Grinstead.
In the past year, the 262 Saturday service has been used by walkers and visitors to the area, and people needing to access services in Uckfield from the Forest or rail services at East Grinstead.
By the end of January 2017, (36 weeks of service) a total of 547 tickets had been issued (438 of them concessionary fares).
There were a number of regular passengers, but the majority were occasional users visiting the area.
In recent months, further cuts have been made to bus services in the local area.
The 231 calling at Etchingham, Burwash, Heathfield, Blackboys, Framfield and Uckfield now has a reduced timetable on weekdays as a result of passenger numbers decreasing. A decision to stop the 231 service on Saturdays was made with the last day of operation in mid-February.
East Sussex County Council contacted NWCTP to see if it could assist.
It has proposed that the current Saturday 262 service linking the Ashdown Forest, Nutley, Maresfield and Uckfield be extended to run from Forest Row to Heathfield via the western side of Ashdown Forest, Nutley, Maresfield, Uckfield, Framfield, Blackboys, Cross in Hand and Heathfield.
This would alter the current service route which carries out a circular route around the Forest.
The new route would travel along the western side of the Forest only. To ensure fairness in contributions, the county council and NWCTP suggested funding be sought by the relevant proportion in terms of the tax base in each parish/town.
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