Category Archives: Buses

The bus service in Woodbridge

What’s been happening in Suffolk: March & April

So, this month deals with the SFRS cuts consultation, community transport , the PCC elections,  and  devolution

Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service cuts  The independent report into Suffolk’s proposed cuts having been published.  Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) will make recommendations to May’s Cabinet.

The public consultation  were summarised as the following:

FIre consultation

The public focus groups were groups of people chosen at random by telephone number and given briefings as to the situation.  Their conclusions seem in stark contrast to the rest of the consultation. In March’s Full Council I put the local case for Woodbridge retained fire station and its need for the continuing support of Ipswich fire crews,. Interestingly, the public focus group looking specifically at the Ipswich proposals were divided in their opinions, and didn’t support the cuts.

The same link will give details about

Rural Transport At the same meeting  (March 18), in  addition to raising the my concerns about the new rural transport  franchises (details of my speech as LD spokesperson for Transport can be found here http://blog.suffolk.libdems.org/2016/03/18/lib-dems-support-community-transport/ )

I also asked the following question of the Cabinet Member for Transport
Norfolk is conducting a review of its HGV routes because of high-profile tv coverage of HGVs taking inappropriate routes and causing damage. Suffolk County Council’s route hierarchy has not been reviewed in the round for 30 years. In light of Suffolk’s current and future expansion and development, and the continuing increase in the size of HGVs, will the Cabinet Member agree to conduct a similar review for Suffolk, with the purpose of ensuring that as many HGV movements as possible are made via main roads rather than using unsuitable routes through rural villages and small towns such as Woodbridge – which continue to struggle with such traffic movements    I got a rather inconclusive response.

Devolution for East Anglia  A devolution deal for East Anglia was announced by the Chancellor in midMarch and now needs to be ratified by all County and District and borough councils and the (unelected) LEP boards involved. ( This may not be plain sailing – Cambridge City and Cambridge County have already shown themselves to be against this).

Although it is very difficult to get the Suffolk person in the street interested in devolution, it is vital that we do so  because it is about a fundamentally different relationship between Government and local public services and it affects all of us.

The East Anglia Deal would see decisions currently made by Government on things such as infrastructure, growth, employment and skills being made by the Board of a new Combined Authority, consisting of all the Leaders of County and District Councils – and a directly elected Mayor. In other words it would be pretty much like the Cabinet system that currently operates in Suffolk County Council – with such noticeable democratic deficit.

 It is proposed that the first mayoral elections would be in May 2017 alongside county elections.

The directly elected Mayor would act as Chair to the East Anglia Combined Authority and would have:

  • Responsibility for a multi-year, consolidated and devolved local transport budget
  • Responsibility for a new Key Route Network of local authority roads, managed and maintained by the Combined Authority
  • Powers over strategic planning and housing, including £175m ring-fenced funding to deliver an ambitious target of new homes; the responsibility to create a non-statutory spatial framework for the East and to develop with Government a Land Commission and to chair the East Joint Assets Board for economic assets

The East Anglia Authority, working with the Mayor, would have:

  • Control of a new additional £30 m a year funding over 30 years (£900m), to be invested in the East Anglia Single Investment Fund, to boost growth
  • Responsibility for chairing an area-based review of 16+ skills provision, the outcomes of which will be taken forward in line with the principles of the devolved arrangements, and devolved 19+ adult skills funding from 2018/19
  • Joint responsibility with the Government to co-design the new National Work and Health Programme ‘designed to focus on those with a health condition or disability and the very long term unemployed.’ (I am concerned that the longterm unemployed and the disabled are seen in the same sentence – aren’t you? ) There is also a commitment to continue improvements to local health and social care services, including continuing to join up services and promote integration between NHS and local government

I don’t know about you, but  I am deeply concerned that any future deal involving  education or NHS trusts will NOT involve the people of East Anglia shouldering the burden of PFI  debt incurred by central government  on educational an health sites (not only the local debts such as the PFI debt on Elizabeth Garrett Anderson building, but also the mountainous ones on the Addenbrookes site). I have asked for further information on this.

PCC election  The election for Suffolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner will  be on May 5. There will be a hustings  for all candidates in Ipswich at University Campus Suffolk, 6-8  on 21 April  http://www.stop-watch.org/events/details/suffolk-pcc-hustings-6pm-8pm.

All the candidates’ details can be found here 

Community Transport for Suffolk- even fewer services?

SCC’s cabinet has forced through a new Community Transport model for Suffolk– despite huge reservations from opposition parties and after many of these reservations were confirmed by the county’s cross-party scrutiny committee last month.

Community transport is the term for services like ‘Dial a Ride ‘ that provide transport on demand to those people  no longer served by scheduled buses or trains.

And there are a lot of these isolated folk in Suffolk. The Conservative administration has increasingly replaced scheduled bus services in rural areas with community transport operating under various brands serving specific communities and specific user-groups. Their vehicles have been provided by the county and the services largely specified by county officers, but delivery  of demand responsive services has remained patchy, disparate and problematic.  Often people have had little idea of availability and there have been large areas of unmet need – particularly regarding young person’s travel , regular travel to employment, weekend and evening travel, and same day travel.

The new proposal sees seven contracts (one per district council) to ensure holistic district branding – so people could identify who to phone to book a journey. It would also allow for greater flexibility of provision . (However, people often travel from one district to another to visit the hospital or to shop in a major town).

The SCC-owned vehicles will  be sold to the providers, a move that supposedly will  allow a wider range of customers to be served.  The voiced rationale is, when the county owns vehicles, providers are not allowed to use them to provide profitable services if they  compete with commercial services., as that would involve the state subsidising one service to compete against another. It will also, obviously save the county a lot of money!

Suffolk County County – still in thrall to the ideology of impossible competition which has failed rural bus transport so comprehensively over the past thirty years  – declares that this will allow ‘competition’ for eg some forms of home-to-school transport that will use the assets more intensively. (Why? Why now? Home-to school transport services have become  steadily more expensive, and council-dependent ever since bus deregulation made  competition mandatory outside London, thirty years ago. I would suggest this might just be because competition was not the answer!).

The proposal was ‘called in’ by the Labour group for several separate reasons. The call-in was supported by the LibDems , who thought thought the most significant objections to the scheme were financial.

For a start, the intention was that the county no longer provide free vehicles – saving it some £570k (which these largely voluntary bodies would have to find) – but also SCC would HALVE the community subsidy from £1.4m to £700k over the next four years.  This enormous cut was supposed to be  supported by the voluntary bodies’ increased revenue from the new ‘freedom’ to provide services !  (You may notice the same tired old rhetoric).

In fact, the scrutiny committee believed it was more likely that , although the providers would survive using their new freedoms and their vehicles to provide the county with some  alternative sources of transport (for instance home to school services) others would definitely suffer.  Many services to people without other transport options would be unlikely to be supported by the  halving of the county contribution – and would therefore be cut.

And as the new contract is deliberately non-specific, the County could  claim any such losses are matters outside its control. Talk about jesting Pilate.

Scrutiny therefore referred the decision back to cabinet. And, in a very brief process which allowed no comment from other councillors Suffolk’s Conservative Cabinet dismissed the reasoning of the cross-party scrutiny committee and decided there would be no change to this worrying decision.

They looked at scrutiny and thought, “Nobody tells us what to do!” So much for democracy! So much for ‘holding to account.’

Additional bus stop near Framfield House Surgery

Over the next few days, work will be undertaken to put in another bus stop on each side of the Ipswich Road above the Notcutts  roundabout.

This is because there are now a significant number of people  who  want to use the bus to get to the Framfield House Surgery, and the McCarthy & Stone retirement housing behind it. The bus stop  beneath the Cherry Tree  Inn is not helpful for such people because it is quite a walk uphill and  pedestrian access to the surgery and housing was not prioritised in the design!

I brought this to the attention of Suffolk’s Passenger Transport department as a local need  after  various representations from Woodbridge residents –at my surgery, by email (and even when I was sitting on various buses!).

I can confirm that there are no plans to remove any existing bus stops in Woodbridge.  These new ones are being installed as an additional facility for passengers around the Ipswich Road/Warren Hill Road junction who are unable to easily access the stops at the Cherry Tree (on Ipswich Road) due to the distance to walk and the steepness of the gradients involved.

As most of the users are bus pass holders (who are unable to use a bus pass before 9.30) and people wanting to visit the surgery,  this was not considered likely to impact on  rush hour traffic.

Although I broke this news in April,  there has been a considerable delay (seven months) between  these new stops being agreed, and  the execution of the plan. This is due to the continuing operational and scheduling problems that seem to  have occurred ever since SCC  outsourced its Highways contract to the external company KMG.

Changes to 64 and 65 bus services from Woodbridge

After more than two years of stability, major changes have been made to our local bus service with effect from Tuesday 1st September. First Norfolk & Suffolk has made major changes to service 64 and 65, as follows:-

  • Service 64 will operate Aldeburgh – Leiston – Saxmundham – Wickham Market – Melton (via Melton Road) – Woodbridge – Kesgrave (via Main Road) – Ipswich, much as now, but only every two hours rather than the current hourly frequency;
  • Service 65 will operate Aldeburgh – Leiston – Snape – Rendlesham – Melton (via Melton Road rather than Bredfield Road) – Woodbridge – Kesgrave (via Main Road) – Ipswich, but omitting Martlesham Heath Tesco, and only every two hours rather than the current hourly frequency;
  • A new Service 63 will operate Melton Chapel – Bredfield Road – Woodbridge – Martlesham Heath Tesco – Kesgrave (alternately via Fentons Way or Edmonton Close) – Ipswich, running every hour. Off-peak services will run a one-way loop between Woodbridge and Melton, running via Melton Road, Wilford Bridge Road, Station Road, The Street, Woods Lane, Bredfield Road and Pytches Road. First have yet to confirm that passengers will be able to travel from Ipswich/Woodbridge to Bredfield Road without paying any additional fare.
  • Currently the evening and Sunday service 65B, sponsored by Suffolk County Council, remain unchanged.
  • Morning peak journeys into Ipswich will change – with one less bus.

First is also taking over the Suffolk County Council contract for service 30 from Beestons and renumbering it as service 70

Better Bus Passes WERE affordable all the time!

Emprotesting2 (2)
Bus passes are hugely important for both disabled and elderly bus users

Since Suffolk County Council took over administering the Concessionary Bus pass scheme from the district councils, they have managed a significant underspend every year  which they use to fund other things – not necessarily connected with public transport. This is cynical and inappropriate –and is defended by the council with the limp rationale that this money is ‘not ringfenced.’

Can I remind you of the importance of bus transport for the elderly and disabled in a large rural county like ours – and the impact on services which this cheeseparing decision has had, through the law of unintended consequences?

BUT , last week Suffolk County Council’s 2014-15 budget outturn (revealed at last week’s Cabinet) showed definitively a Passenger Transport  underspend of £400,000 due mainly to half a million pounds of savings in spend on Concessionary Travel. On being questioned, the  Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport has confirmed that  similar savings have been made every year since the County Council  took over the administration of the Concessionary Travel scheme from the district councils.

The dreadful thing about this underspend is that SCC do not allow the elderly or  disabled people to use their bus passes before 9.30 in the morning, because they say it is ‘unaffordable,’ AND in July 2011 Council voted to support a motion put forward by myself -as Shadow Spokesperson for Transport –  to change this! They voted  that concessionary bus pass holders eligible due to age should be able to travel using their passes from 9am during the week, in addition to removing all time limitations for disabled pass holders. (Full details here)

This decision was undemocratically quashed by Cabinet on the grounds of cost (estimated at that time to be around £200,000).

In other words, four years ago  the entire membership of Suffolk County Council voted for an action that would help the most vulnerable members of our county, the Cabinet undemocratically overruled the council’s decision on the grounds of cost, and now it seems as if the over-ruling was made on a spurious and mistaken basis – to put it mildly!

In full council last week I reminded the current Cabinet Member for Transport of the decision to overrule Councils vote and I asked: “As arguments of cost are groundless from the evidence of these outturn figures,   will the Cabinet member now engage to  revisit and reinstate that decision, so that the concessionary pass holders of Suffolk can once again enjoy the same benefits they had before the County Council took over administration of the scheme – and which, in some cases (the blind, for example) they had enjoyed since the Second World War!”