Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough James Palmer has stepped in to prevent the loss of two 'vital' town centre bus routes serving St Neots.
Bus operator Whippet was preparing to pull out of the town's 61 and 63 services because they were making a loss. After hearing the services were under threat, Mayor Palmer agreed to provide funding to keep the routes going until March 2019.
The routes are seen as important for people getting to and around the town, for its economy and its attractiveness as a place to live and work. The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority in June this year approved £4.1 million of funding for the St Neots Masterplan, a comprehensive and wide-ranging blueprint for the future growth of the county's biggest and fastest growing market towns.
The Mayor's intervention will keep the routes going while the Combined Authority awaits the results of a review of bus services for the whole of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. The report and its recommendations are expected to be finalised in November.
Mayor James Palmer said:
"The loss of the 61 and 63 services would impact many people in St Neots. With the rapid progress we have made with the St Neots Masterplan, we cannot afford to lose momentum and so it makes sense to sustain these important services in the short term while longer term strategies are being put in place. St Neots is growing, and following the implementation of the Masterplan, which includes a new foot and cycle bridge linking the Market Square, we expect further growth and an increase in demand on public transport.
"I've said before that buses are not working for people in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. But it is also my view that it is not sustainable for the Combined Authority to continuously have to step in to retain these existing bus services when they are about to be lost. Our strategic bus review, which is due for reporting in November, will give us recommendations on how best to reshape buses so that we work for everyone in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. But in the meantime, low-cost interventions like this make sense to avoid disruption for people and business.
"As part of the Masterplan, the Combined Authority has funded a comprehensive transport study for the town, which will give us solutions on how best to move people around and in relation to wider projects like Cambridgeshire Metro, the A428 dualling scheme and the Oxford to Cambridge corridor plans. The Metro will extend to St Neots, connecting it to the Greater Cambridge area and its wider public transport and I see this as a key long term transport solution for the town.
"I'm very excited about the potential for St Neots for further growth and prosperity and similar masterplans will be created for all of Cambridgeshire's market towns, recognising their importance in the goal of growing our economy and making this area a great place to live and work."
District Councillor for St Neots, Cllr David Wells, who is also chair of the St Neots Masterplan Steering Group, said:
"This is an important intervention, especially when improving travel within St Neots is a key part of the town's Masterplan for Growth.
"The 61 and 63 bus services provide a key link for residents of Eaton Socon, Eaton Ford and Eynesbury with the town centre. I support the Combined Authority's wider review of bus services, where improvements will be particularly important for the vitality of market towns like St Neots"
Following the intervention, Whippet will also undertake supporting marketing to further promote the services and encourage greater use, which will in turn reduce the cost of public subsidy. They have also already made mobile ticketing available in St Neots.
Whippet Managing Director Charlie Hamilton said:
"We are delighted that Mayor James Palmer is supportive of local bus services in St Neots. The considerable growth and economic prosperity of the town is strengthened by a good public bus service.
"We believe that government support is vital for bus services outside of the bug cities, and that Mayor Palmer has shown his commitment to supporting towns in the Combined Authority region as will as the big cities."
Cambridgeshire County Councillor for the Eatons in St Neots, Cllr Derek Giles said:
"I am delighted with this intervention and injection of cash to save these routes for the next six months. In the coming months I would urge residents to use this service as much as possible so that we can work with Whippet to fine tune the most popular and viable routes across town and prove that the service can be sustainable."
Other elements to the St Neots Masterplan include working towards delivery of a Business Improvement District, making St Neots the county's first Smart Town and to work towards the formulation of a bespoke skills strategy.
Find out more about the St Neots Masterplan: http://cambridgeshirepeterborough-ca.gov.uk/news/mayor-james-palmer-steps-in-to-save-two-vital-market-town-bus-services/