Emergency measures have been demanded following the announcement that a bus service which serves rural communities in the Ribble Valley is due to be scrapped.
Preston Bus has confirmed that its 280 service, which winds its way from Preston to Clitheroe and onto Skipton, will be withdrawn on Saturday, June 15th.
The bus operator took over the rural route in March 2016 after French firm TransDev opted not to renew its contract. But the route, which links Lancashire with Yorkshire, has not proved sustainable for the bus operator.
The route currently serves rural communities including Mellor Brook, Copster Green, Billington and Whalley as well as Gisburn en route to Skipton.
Lancashire County Council has put the service out for tender and is seeking bids from local bus operators interested in continuing the service.
A spokesman for Lancashire County Council said: "The withdrawal of Service 280 is a commercial decision taken by Rotala Preston Bus. We are aware this will have an impact on passengers and are currently working with other bus service providers to establish if a sustainable replacement service can be provided."
A spokesman for Preston Bus added: "Preston Bus has de-registered commercial operation of Service 280 from Monday, June 17th. But the service is likely to finish after its last timetabled journey on Saturday, June 15th. Lancashire County Council has issued a tender, inviting bids from local bus operators to ascertain the potential cost to replace the withdrawn commercial service. However, at this moment in time there is no guarantee a contract will be awarded.
“We’d like to thank the dedicated team of drivers on the 280 for their sterling efforts over the years. Reports from customers have been consistently outstanding.”
The bus firm said assured customers that any unused portions of its Gold EasiWeek and Gold Easi28Day tickets will be refunded.
The news has been met with disappointment with Ribble Valley MP Nigel Evans and several local councillors agreeing that the impact on local residents will be severe.
“The 280 service is a vital service which runs right through the heart of the Ribble Valley, linking the centre of Lancashire to Yorkshire," said Mr Evans. "Perhaps more importantly, it serves rural populations that have dire need for regular services to reach their place of work, college or university.”
He added: "In the days since Preston Bus announced it was de-registering the service I have received numerous emails from my constituents to inform me of the impact the loss of the service will have on their lives. I will be urging Lancashire County Council in the strongest possible terms to find a solution which would secure the long-term future of the much- loved 280 route.”
Coun. Richard Sherras, who is the councillor for the Gisburn and Rimington ward on Ribble Valley Borough Council, said: "I am making strong representations to LCC. The 280 service is the only bus which connects Gisburn to either Clitheroe or Skipton - its withdrawal would therefore be disastrous for many people particularly those without their own transport or unable to drive. It would also affect students travelling to Clitheroe Royal Grammar School, Cardinal Newman, Preston, and Craven College, Skipton. With the cancellation due imminent a solution to this problem is urgently required."
Lancashire County Coun. Alan Schofield, who represents Ribble Valley South West covering mainly Mellor to Billington inclusive, said: "The bus route 280 direct between Preston and Clitheroe (and on to Skipton) is too popular and useful to people for it not to continue. I have made initial representation at high level on the matter on behalf of residents affected now and in the future including pupils attending or due to attend sixth form colleges at Cardinal Newman, Preston, and Clitheroe Royal Grammar School. And I shall be speaking on the subject at county hall this week."
Ribble Valley Borough Councillor, Ged Mirfin, who represents Whalley, said: “This has severe implications for the Ribble Valley severing the only public transport artery to Skipton and therefore causing huge problems for students who attend schools over the border in Skipton, workers - particularly those who work for Skipton Building Society at their HQ, pensioners who visit the market in Skipton and visitors who enjoy a day out in the Ribble Valley. I very much hope that this turns out to be a non-story as I am led to believe that something is being done behind the scenes."
Fellow Ribble Valley Borough Councillor in Whalley, Mark Hindle added: “This is an important link for the people of Whalley who use public transport to visit Skipton. This will particularly affect older people in Whalley and further contribute to a growing problem of rural isolation. RVBC is particularly concerned about rural isolation and we have seen banks and other vital services for local people close. Ged Mirfin and I strongly encourage Lancashire County to find enhanced funding which will prove attractive to an alternate provider and in the meantime do all they can to facilitate the search for a new provider to ensure the continuation of this vital local service..We will vigorously lobby against the discontinuation of this vital service and urge that common sense prevails and does not to discriminate against people in Whalley and Billington which the 280 bus service passes through on its journey to and from Preston.”
Lib Dem run Clitheroe Town Council, meanwhile, has passed an emergency resolution calling on Lancashire County Council to keep the 280 bus going with the current timetable, after Preston Bus ceases to provide the service on June 17th.
Clitheroe Town Councillor and Ribble Valley Borough Councillor Allan Knox said: “A large number of school pupils going either to CRGS or to Cardinal Newman use the service and to withdraw it or even just change the timetable during GCSEs and A levels could have serious consequences for young people’s future life choices. In addition there are many people who use the service to commute to Preston or BAe.”
Members of the town council agreed that the town clerk writes to the cabinet member responsible at Lancashire County Council and ask that a temporary replacement service fulfills the same timetable until the school summer holidays and, that when a permanent replacement service is found, that the same level of service be provided on the 280 route.