Concerns over new Western Isles school transport plans

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The Western Isles Council has been has been asked to suspend new rules on school transport by the SNP opposition as members plan to withdraw free bus travel from hundreds of island schoolchildren.

The change to the distance limits would disqualify many pupils from free travel, as those living less than 2 miles from the school would be considered as living close enough to walk.

Barra Councillor Donald Manford said the new rules could make travel unsafe for some children.

Mr Manford said: “If they aren’t able to use different forms of transport then of course walking is the only other method.

“Where there are no safe footpaths for children to walk to and from school it is wholly unreasonable for them to be expected to walk on single-track roads and even dual-track roads.”

But the leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council), Angus Campbell, claimed he was surprised that Mr Manford and other SNP councillors were raising the issue now, 18 months after he said the decision was made.

Mr Campbell said: “I’m quite happy to sit down and look at this in terms of if there’s any effects that we haven’t thought of but we have to remember that Donald himself was chair of transportation at that time and has got no objections on the table then.”

“Any member who wants to forward alternatives is always free to do that as long as they identify how we are going to finance them,” he added.

Following the local authority elections in May, the SNP group increased from 4 to 7 members, allowing the party to become an official opposition to the Labour run council.

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP, Angus Brendan MacNeil is supporting the SNP council group and has serious concerns regarding the implementation of the new “Home to School Travel Policy” which is due to be implemented by the Comhairle at the beginning of the school term on 16th August.

Angus MacNeil said:

“I fully support the SNP council group as they try to bring a halt to the new ‘Home to School Travel Policy’.

“We had elections in May and now have a new council and I certainly hope that this decision will be overturned.

“These changes cannot be sprung on people in less than a week while buses continue to go past doorsteps.  Has any assessment been made on whether there is a footpath to school or whether the route is likely to suffer from weather exposure for all those affected?

“Will councillors be moving their car park two miles from the council offices? If not they should treat children as they would like to be treated themselves.”

“Safety should be paramount; we must not put our school children at risk for financial savings.”