Published: 13:09, 21 May 2022
| Updated: 13:10, 21 May 2022
A heated debate ensued in a council chamber over planned bus route cuts in Kent, which have been described as "bonkers".
Politicians have been left divided over controversial plans from Kent County Council (KCC) to axe 55 subsidised bus routes that are deemed beneficial to local communities but not profitable to the local authority.
Defending the move, KCC's cabinet member for transport, Cllr David Brazier (Con), said: “I do not want to do this. It gives me no satisfaction whatsoever.”
Strong objections have been raised by Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens amid concerns over social isolation for residents in rural areas and harm to the environment, with the potential for more car journeys and CO2 emissions.
No final decision was made during a lengthy and emotionally charged debate in County Hall, Maidstone, on Thursday.
If approved, KCC Tories say the changes would lead to 48 bus contracts being withdrawn from summer 2022.
The proposed £2.2m cuts have been described as “pragmatic” amid high financial pressures from Covid as KCC aims to achieve a balanced budget.
One of the bus services under threat includes the Kent Karrier service. This is being used by elderly and disabled residents to travel from homes to shops and nearest town centres.
Around 17 bus contracts may be axed, which support 50 children who have a legal entitlement to free school transport. They would require an alternative solution.
Other affected routes include the 474 Go Coach Bluewater to Longfield service in Dartford and 360 from Leysdown to the Isle of Sheppey in Swale.
Swale Independents Alliance county councillor Mike Baldock, who sits on KCC's transport committee, described the bus cuts plan as a “disaster” as he said: "We must find another way to keep the buses going.”
More than 2,500 responses were made to a public consultation on the proposed cuts, which ran from February 24 to April 20.
A “notable” number of respondents said they have no alternative travel option and would lose their independence. Mental health concerns were also raised.
Four Kent MPs have written letters to KCC and three petitions have been sent to the council to argue against the proposal.
A panel of Kent county councillors debated the initial findings of the consultation yesterday in County Hall, Maidstone.
Conservative county councillor Dylan Jeffrey (Con) said: “I do not welcome this, but we have to be pragmatic.”He added: “I accept what we have to do is a necessary evil.”
Meanwhile, Labour county councillor Mel Dawkins described the proposed cuts as “bonkers” while KCC’s shadow cabinet member for transport, Cllr Barry Lewis (Lab), said the move is purely “political”.
Cllr Baldock added: “This is a decision we do not have to make. We will have trouble justifying this.”
A more detailed report about the way forward is expected to be discussed by KCC's environment and transport in July.