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Axing Stagecoach number 11 bus will leave villagers around Canterbury stranded

Angry villagers say they will be left stranded by the loss of a "vital" bus route used by schoolchildren, pensioners and commuters.

Stagecoach has decided to axe the number 11 service that stops at 10 villages between Canterbury and Westwood Cross in Thanet, including Plucks Gutter, Stourmouth, Preston, Ickham and Wickhambreaux.

Villagers in Preston express their anger over the 'vital' bus service being cut

For these communities, it is their only public transport, and scores of passengers are said to be affected.

But the operator says it is no longer viable for the company to run, and the service will cease on August 28.

The cut is on top of almost 40 subsidised 'lifeline' routes across the county already facing the chop.

Preston Parish Council chairman Tom Gale is among those now calling on Stagecoach to rethink the withdrawal.

Speaking at a gathering of protesters, he said: "A lot of villagers have turned out because they are really upset about the cancellation of our bus service, which is a lifeline to the community, and without it will leave many people stranded.

The number 11 bus is a lifeline for Preston
The number 11 bus is a lifeline for Preston

"They have no alternative transport - especially the elderly who need to get to the shops or the doctors, and for young people to get to school, or those simply travelling to work.

"We are also a growing village, with 80 new homes recently built and plans for more. The government is keen for new homes in rural settings but they need to make sure they are connected to the outside world.

"The irony is that the government also wants us to lead greener lives, but this is pushing people back into cars.

"We really need KCC and Stagecoach to sit down together and rethink this."

Cllr Gale's concerns are echoed by other surrounding parishes similarly affected.

Preston Parish Council chairman Tom Gale
Preston Parish Council chairman Tom Gale

"It just doesn't make sense," says Faith Wright, from the authority in Wickhambreaux.

"I think we have about 10 people who use it regularly, including children and the elderly.

"Together with the other parish councils, we have asked Stagecoach managers to meet with us and hear our concerns directly."

The chairman of Stourmouth Parish Council, Mike Coleman, fears the loss of the service will have a serious social impact on communities.

Amelia Coleman, the former head pupil of Simon Langton Girls' Grammar School, says she relied on the bus for seven years.

Amelia Coleman used to get the bus to school
Amelia Coleman used to get the bus to school

"It was vital for me and now is for my younger sister, Lydia, to get to school," she said.

"Cutting it will affect so many young people after what has already been a very challenging few years for them.

"We are also a growing community with many young families, so cutting the bus service will be hugely detrimental, and I urge Stagecoach to rethink it."

Among the regular elderly bus passengers is 81-year-old Pat Thomas, who says the service is a lifeline.

"It's absolutely vital to me, and one of the things I checked before moving to Preston five years ago was that it had a bus service, because I don't drive."

The bus stop in Preston could soon become redundant (58068969)
The bus stop in Preston could soon become redundant (58068969)

Kent county councillor Mike Sole (Lib Dem) says he is now lobbying KCC and Stagecoach to have the route re-instated and has started a petition.

"We did not expect the number 11 to be withdrawn and these villages will now be without any service, isolating many, adding to personal costs, putting more cars on the roads and leaving many families wondering how they will get their children to school."

Joel Mitchell, the managing Director of Stagecoach South East, says bus services have been "kept on life-support" by a combination of government recovery funding, protected levels of subsidy from KCC and the steps the company has taken to keep services running.

"Every local authority area across the country has been asked by the government to ensure there are stable and sustainable bus networks in place for the long-term when government support funding comes to an end," he said.

"We’re working closely with KCC on network plans that reflect the new travel patterns we have seen coming out of the pandemic and current levels of passenger demand, against a backdrop of rising costs and labour challenges across the UK economy.

"But route 11 did not cover its direct operating costs even before the pandemic..."

"Where some services are reduced, it's a tough decision, because we know the impact it may have on individual people.

"But route 11 did not cover its direct operating costs even before the pandemic, so without these funding streams to underwrite the cost of its operation, it cannot continue."

This week talks were on-going between county councillors, authority officials and Stagecoach to see if a compromise service could be retained.

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