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Politicians rail against new bus service cuts

Politicians in north Staffordshire have blasted bosses at First Bus for slashing routes – just days after a meeting to discuss improving local bus services.

Transport minister Richard Holden visited Stoke-on-Trent last week to talk about how a £30m investment would bring about more routes and a three-year project to transform public transport in the area (writes local democracy reporter Richard Price).

Mr Holden said Stoke-on-Trent had received one of the biggest investments of anywhere in the country, but just days after his visit First Bus announced changes to more than a dozen routes – including one serving Biddulph – which will mean an even poorer experience for travellers.

The local route is service 7-7A from Hanley to Kidsgrove/Biddulph. Buses will operate hourly on each route, Monday-Saturday daytime and will provide a half-hourly service between Hanley and Chell. The Sunday service is withdrawn.

Now Stoke-on-Trent Central MP Jo Gideon has written to the boss of First Buses, Nigel Eggleton, demanding an explanation.

She said: “This announcement of cuts to bus services is extremely disappointing, especially following the positive discussions that recently took place when the minister for roads and local transport, Richard Holden MP, visited my constituency for a roundtable discussion with representatives from your company, local MPs and the council.

“My constituents have raised major concerns regarding the reduction and in some cases the cancellation of services all together which leaves them without access to the local buses they rely on to travel around Stoke-on-Trent.

“I am sure you will agree that people who do not have access to a car or are unable to drive need good, reliable and regular public transport.”

She added: “Since my election in 2019, I have been working tirelessly to ensure our city receives the investment it deserves into our transport network, and I was delighted when we secured Government funding of £29m from the Transforming Cities Fund and an additional £31.7m from the Bus Service Improvement Fund to transform our bus services over the next three years, including having more evening and Sunday services to boost the night-time economy and help commuters get home from work.

“It signified a recognition from Government of the importance of investing in our local buses and ensuring their accessibility and reliability so the news of the reduction in bus services directly contradicts the positive momentum generated by these funding commitments and the discussions at the recent roundtable.”

Newcastle-under-Lyme Labour Parliamentary candidate Adam Jogee has pleaded with bosses to meet with him to discuss cuts to services between Audley and Hanley.

He said: “Like many local people, I am deeply concerned by the scope and reach of the proposed changes and what this will mean for the livelihoods, health and wellbeing of those who live, learn and work in this community.”

Ian Smith, First Bus commercial director, said in a statement: “On Sunday, 2nd July some of our services will be changing to coincide with how, when and where people are travelling by bus around the Potteries area.

“Some timetables will have minor frequency changes and some evening and weekend journeys are being withdrawn due to very low patronage at those times, but by working closely with Staffordshire County Council and Stoke City Council we have managed to retain some journeys with financial support.

“I realise that some of the upcoming changes may bring some inconvenience to the few people that use the bus at those times, but bus services need to be supported to secure sustainability and unfortunately in the areas affected by the changes, we have seen a decline in demand.

“We are starting to see early signs of patronage growth on some routes with the introduction of the Government-funded £2 single fare which is very positive, and we will be working closely with Stoke City Council to bring further fare initiatives over the coming weeks.”

First Potteries cuts include:
• Service 3-3A, Hanley to Crewe/Talke Pits, a few journeys in the evening withdrawn;
• Service 4-4A, between Hanley and Audley/Kidsgrove, buses to terminate at Waterhayes and Audley/Wood Lane will no longer be served, while on Sundays, service 4 will operate between Hanley and Newcastle only, with no changes to the route of service 4A and there will continue to be a bus every 15 minutes, Monday-Friday daytime between Hanley, Festival Park, Newcastle and Chesterton;
• Service 18, Hanley to Leek, Sunday service withdrawn;
• Service 25, Hanley to Keele, “minor timetable changes to help improve reliability”.

(Photo: Chris M Malkinuk / Wikimedia Commons).

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