AN MP is hoping to raise a parents’ school safety campaign in Parliament, after more than 300 people signed a petition calling for a change in government guidelines.
Roberta Blackman-Woods, Labour MP for Durham City, wants to have the petition read in Parliament later this month and then secure a debate, at which the Government minister responsible would have to be present and respond.
Dr Blackman-Woods outlined her plans after receiving the petition at a public meeting held at the Lambton Arms pub in Sherburn Village, near Durham, last night (Friday, January 11). About 30 people, including parents and children, attended.
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Parents in Sherburn Village, Sherburn Hill and West Rainton are angry that, responding to government grant cuts, Durham County Council cut home-to-school transport funding, meaning children must live at least three miles from their secondary school to get a free bus pass. Previously, the cut-off point was two miles.
The change, which came into effect initially for year seven pupils only last September, is thought to effect around 26 families in the three villages.
Pittington children continue to receive free transport because there is no safe walking route to the school involved, Belmont Community School.
Parents in the Sherburns say the route their children are expected to walk is unsafe as it includes The Scrambles, an open area which council transport chief Adrian White previously said he would not want to send an 11-year-old child of his down because of safety concerns.
West Rainton families are unhappy that their route involves walking next to the busy A690.
Their petition challenges government guidelines on what constitutes a safe route, saying it should have to be lit, should not be too isolated and should be safe for children to walk unaccompanied.
Stephen Guy, a Labour candidate in May’s council elections, said vulnerable people were again being hit by central government cuts.
Dr Blackman-Woods said the guidelines were absolutely ridiculous and she could “hardly imagine a worse piece of public policy”. However, the council could still be more helpful, she added.
The council is subsidising the bus fares, so parents pay £1.50 of the approximately £3-a-day cost – or £96 a term, and has set up a monthly direct debit scheme for payments.
A council spokeswoman said there had been no change in its assessment of the ‘safe’ walking routes.