Midhurst and Petworth area is being pushed into rural isolation with news threatened cuts to public transport services are to go ahead, it has been claimed.
West Sussex County Council has announced it is reducing bus subsidies – and proposed cuts to bus services in the evenings and at weekends will be carried out, despite some 6,000 responses to its public consultation.
But community leaders say public transport links to the two towns and their surrounding villages should be made stronger to serve the area which is at the heart of the new South Downs National Park.
They say the cuts make it impossible for people without their own transport to work out of town or for students to study at Chichester or Alton.
Now Midhurst Town Council has contacted surrounding parishes and Chichester district councillors north of the Downs, urging them to protest.
Midhurst’s district councillor Gordon McAra claimed the county-wide cuts disproportionately affected Midhurst.
“Instead of slowly reducing bus subsidies, WSCC appears to be nearly halving them at once,” he said. “We are sleep-walking into isolation.
“With these new arrangements, our students can’t catch a bus home from Chichester or Alton, even in the early evening, and visitors can’t catch a bus to the town on a Sunday.”
He urged district, parish and county councillors to wake up to the threats to the rural area: “I am not trying to be confrontational, but to stress there is strength in many and we need to get together to preserve what we have.
“This move by WSCC is isolating the town and forcing anyone who wants to travel to use a car, which is not an option for many people.
“If you add the loss of day-care services, and the threat to our fire and ambulance services, we must wonder exactly what our taxes are for.”
At Petworth, town councillor Juliet Fynes, who co-ordinated, with vice-chairman Gordon Allan, the transport sub-committee of the town’s Action Plan, believes the new National Park authority should be encouraged to market the bus service to encourage tourism.
“The trouble with cutting bus services is it creates a sort of spiral effect – the fewer there are, the less useful they are and then people are forced to go by car.”
She said the cuts would isolate Petworth on Sundays to anyone who did not have a car: “I do sympathise with the county council, which has to make savings,” she said, “but if the buses were marketed better, they might be used more.
The cuts are the first phase of a three-year plan to reduce support for non-commercial routes by £2m.
Cabinet member for highways and transport Pieter Montyn said: “The removal of a subsidy does not necessarily mean the end of a service. The first round of reductions has shown us there are other options such as fare increases, a reduced number of buses, or simply the operators finding a way to absorb the cost themselves.”
WSCC has stressed it is keen to work with residents and community transport schemes and is producing an online ‘toolkit’ to offer help and advice on introducing or expanding a service.