Midhurst and Petworth residents challenge bus cuts

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Volunteers and community leaders are once again stepping into the breach, this time in a bid to minimise the devastating effect of bus service cuts on people in the Midhurst and Petworth area.

West Sussex County Council is determined to press ahead with cuts to bus subsidies which mean people who rely on the DoRis lifeline to bring them in from outlying villages will be left high and dry.

The much-used Stagecoach number 1 and number 60 service will also be cut in the evenings and at weekends, despite warnings the decision will force both Midhurst and Petworth into rural isolation.

Chairman of Midhurst town council John Etherington has been pressing the county council to justify its plans to cut bus subsidies by giving him passenger numbers using the number 60 service between Midhurst and Bognor.

But a frustrated Mr Etherington has been unable to get a straight answer: “They have tried to cloud the issue by throwing in the Summersdale to Chichester number 60 service which is totally separate from the Bognor to Midhurst number 60.

“They are not giving us a true picture and I fear they are taking this decision purely on monetary reasons and not because of the lack of use.”

“This gives me the impression they have evidence of falling passenger numbers to justify cutting the evening and Sunday service.”

Mr Etherington said he was determined to fight the decision and would be putting pressure on county councillor Nola Hendon to take up the battle and also asking the town council for its support.

“These cuts will effectively cut this area off from the rest of the world at weekends.

“There are many, many people who walk the South Downs at the weekends, getting off the bus on Cocking Hill and wanting to be picked up again, and this is really and truly cutting us right off.”

He said it also made it difficult for Midhurst people to work or students to study in Chichester, and would affect people’s leisure activities.

Nick Wheeler, chairman of the Midhurst Community Bus Association, said members were currently altering their routes to cater for the ‘near death of the DoRiS service’.

“The big problem is Midhurst is losing everything on a Monday, so we are looking at bringing in a service for Midhurst and the immediate area from October 1.”

In addition he said WSCC was planning a ‘son of DoRiS’ service for shoppers, covering Midhurst and Petworth and surrounding villages on Tuesdays and Fridays.

He said the Midhurst Community Bus Association was also working with the Midhurst Transport Group to provide a leaflet on all the changes.

“The county council has very good on-line ‘getting around Midhurst’ information, but many passengers, particularly the elderly, don’t have computers and we want to provide them with all the information about buses and train links.”

Funding for the leaflet has come from the county council and Action in Rural Sussex and it will be available on October 1 after bus services are finalised.

But Mr Wheeler fears there is little volunteers can do to mitigate the devastating effect of the loss of vital number 60 services on Sundays and in the evenings.

“This is our biggest problem and I have had discussions with WSCC about it, but they have to make savings and this is the best way they think they can do it – the 60 is a great service and so well used – you would think they would try to preserve it.”

On the positive side, he said the county council was continuing its grant to the community bus ‘but for how long we just don’t know’.