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‘Why such short notice about Cambridgeshire bus route cuts?’

Following the announcement that 18 bus services around Cambridgeshire are to be cancelled, an MP has demanded to know why routes are being axed at such short notice.

Anthony Browne, MP for South Cambridgeshire, has written to Combined Authority mayor Dr Nik Johnson asking for an explanation about when he was first told by Stagecoach that the bus services were under threat.

Anthony Browne. Picture: Keith Heppell. (59684330)
Anthony Browne. Picture: Keith Heppell. (59684330)

And he has asked to see a “comprehensive timeline” of communication between the Combined Authority - which is responsible for commissioning bus services - and the bus operator Stagecoach.

Mr Browne said in his letter to the mayor: “Whilst I agree with your public statements condemning Stagecoach East’s actions and I welcome your announcement of an 'urgent process' to address this crisis, residents want to know how and why this situation has come about, particularly at such short notice. Unfortunately, having not been contacted prior to the decision being taken to cut services, the first I knew of it was when the story broke in the local news last week.

“I am therefore writing to ask you to provide a more comprehensive timeline of the Combined Authority’s contact with Stagecoach on this issue. I would also like to understand the specific steps you are taking to reverse the decline in local bus services and secure the future of the network.”

Stagecoach Bus, St Andrew's St. Picture: Keith Heppell.
Stagecoach Bus, St Andrew's St. Picture: Keith Heppell.

In the letter he asks when the Combined Authority was first made aware that these bus services were at risk of withdrawal by Stagecoach East. He also queries whether the authority could find any other sources of funding in its budget to support the bus services. And he wants to know what solutions to the cuts have been proposed by Stagecoach, other local authorities or the Combined Authority.

Finally he requests to know what bus services will be provided to communities if these cuts go ahead.

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority Mayor Dr Nik Johnston riding the number 68 bus. Picture: Mark Bullimore Photography 2022.
Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority Mayor Dr Nik Johnston riding the number 68 bus. Picture: Mark Bullimore Photography 2022.

Mayor Dr Nik Johnson has been approached for comment. He has previously told the Cambridge Independent that when Stagecoach told him of their cancellation plans, “It came as a shock when they first approached us.”

He said: “We had had some discussion the preceding week before they made their announcement, before we got sight of their proposals. But the shock was from the willingness of the company to take a central government bus recovery grant, and then still propose such significant changes to the actual service.”

He added: “We have been aware of the challenges that all bus operators have been thinking about. We have always had regular conversations with all the bus operators. We’ve been supportive along the way. I’ve had joint meetings with Stagecoach and public community engagements to work with them over the last year to ensure improved services for places like Bar Hill and St Neots. Ultimately, I was shocked that a private company made a decision of such magnitude. And what I talked about was the willingness [of Stagecoach] to take government subsidy whilst making changes to a bus service as a private company without full consultation with us.”

And he explained that although he had been aware that the company was struggling, “I think their hope, and indeed our hope, was passenger numbers would continue to increase as people’s working patterns went back to a more than normal pre-Covid state. I think there was a genuine hope that the slight reduction in fuel costs would be greater.”

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