PARENTS at a Catholic school are being urged to object to council proposals to withdraw free and concessionary school transport.

On Monday, Carmel technology college, Darlington, wrote to all parents urging them to support the school's concerns over proposals to cancel current school transport arrangements across the borough.

From September 2002, the council proposes that pupils living within three miles of any school will no longer be entitled to free travel - up from the current two-mile zone.

From September, those living more than three miles away, and who now travel on a concessionary pass, will have to pay £50 per term for a pass.

The council will continue to fund concessionary travel for Carmel's 800 Catholic pupils, but not its 200 non-Catholic students.

In a letter to parents Mr James O'Neill, head teacher, claims that any such action would affect the rights of parents to express a preference for a Catholic education.

He also claims that the financial penalty could be more than that borne by other parents in the town.

"We take from every estate in Darlington and from the surrounding regions of South Durham and North Yorkshire," Mr O'Neill told the D&S Times on Wednesday.

"Although the local education authority are within their rights to do this, their proposals will affect a large number of our families, especially those who have more than one child travelling to school."

The consultation process ended in February and the proposals are still subject to confirmation by cabinet.

But the council says the policy will bring it into line with other authorities.

Mr Geoff Pennington, council director of education, said: "We don't have to provide transport to Carmel. Religion is not defined as a criteria for attending an appropriate school. "However, we will still provide transport for those living more than three miles away. As an education authority we are not well funded. We feel we need to transfer our limited resources to front-line services such as teachers and equipment."

Coun Bill Dixon, deputy council leader added: "Isn't it right that you pay for your own choices. Every penny we save within the education budget is ring-fenced to spend on education, which is how it should be."

The proposals will also affect children who travel less than three miles from Skerne Park to Hummersknott school.

Ms Pat Buttle, secretary of Darlington TUC, urges all parents to continue fighting the cuts. She added: "On Skerne Park there are a lot of families on low incomes and benefits.