Threats to weekend and evening bus services linking Midhurst and Petworth with Chichester, Pulborough, Worthing and Petersfield have led to a warning of a ‘transport crisis’ for those visiting and living in the South Downs National Park.
The South Downs Society has reacted with alarm at the possibility of bus subsidies being cut by West Sussex County Council and neighbouring Hampshire, jeopardising the future of a number of routes.
Its director, Jacquetta Fewster, said such a measure would not only maroon those without their own transport who live in the new park, but would create a no-go zone for people outside the park who rely on buses for their visits.
“National parks provide an incredibly valuable resource for people from the countryside, towns and cities and enable us all to get away from the hustle and bustle of modern life,” Ms Fewster said.
“It would be a tragedy if the enjoyment of this special place was denied to all but those able to drive into and through the park, with all the added noise and pollution that will generate.”
The potential loss of evening and weekend services was revealed at the end of May, including the number 60 service from Midhurst to Chichester and Bognor Regis, and the number 1 service which links Petworth with Midhurst and Worthing.
Public reaction to the announcement, aimed at saving West Sussex County Council £2m in subsidies over three years, has prompted the authority to extend its deadline for comments by two weeks, to Friday, June 24.
Announcing the extension, deputy leader Lionel Barnard, who has responsibility for highways and transport, acknowledged the planned reductions could affect around two million of the 24 million bus journeys made every year in the county.
“We want to make sure we give ourselves enough time to carefully consider all the comments and suggestions received, especially as the impact assessment period has now been extended,” Cllr Barnard said.
“We are working hard with the bus operators to investigate all the alternatives to try to keep services running wherever possible.”
The South Downs Society is insisting the county councils in West Sussex and Hampshire should work with the national park authority and community representatives to draw up proposals for a basic network of bus services leading into the park and to its major towns and villages.
“If properly publicised and marketed, these services would attract countless visitors and in due course enable the withdrawal of subsidies,” director Jacquetta Fewster argued.
She added the South Downs Society was ‘actively engaged’ in promoting sustainable walking throughout the park area and rail and bus links were essential to help achieve that.
Details of the routes that might be affected from October 2011 are available at www.westsussex.gov.uk/buses as well as in local libraries and Help Points. People can comment by calling 01243 642105, sending an email to email@example.com or writing to Buses, Have Your Say, FREEPOST RSBK-CHTU-KGGG, West Sussex County Council, Chichester, PO19 1RQ.