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Councils agree to raise tax to fund ‘vital’ bus service
Published 19/12/16

A BUS serving Whitchurch and Whitchurch Hill could be saved after the two parish councils agreed to fund it by increasing council tax.

Thames Travel’s 143 service, which connects the two villages to Reading via Pangbourne, Purley and Tilehurst, is to be partly paid for by Whitchurch and Goring Heath parish councils after Oxfordshire County Council withdrew its subsidy of £16,500 in March. The councils have been funding the Oxfordshire leg of the route since then but can’t keep doing so without more income.

If they hadn’t stepped in, the operator would have terminated the service at Pangbourne rather than serving the villages on a commercial basis because only 11 residents use it on a typical day.

The parish councils agreed to help after a survey carried out by a residents’ pressure group showed that only one of the 160 households who responded was against the tax rise.

The increase of £7.42 per year is the legal maximum and the councils still need to find about another £5,400 a year to secure the future of the 143.

Goring Heath parish has about 900 homes so the council will raise about £6,600 while Whitchurch has about 620 households so the council will raise about £4,600. Keith Brooks, chairman of Whitchurch Parish Council, said: “We would appreciate any help we can get from any sources.

“The important thing is that we will try as hard as we can to keep the 143 going. There has been a lot of interest in it and many people have expressed dismay at the prospect of losing it, especially the elderly and their carers.

“It would be a disaster for them if it was taken away and we felt it should remain for their sake. We are yet to decide how to find all the money but there is still time to discuss it.”

Peter Dragonetti, chairman of Goring Heath Parish Council, said: “We are quite fortunate in that we have enough money to fund it for most of the next calendar year.

“We have a larger electorate so we can raise a greater share of the money and are now thinking of ways to meet the shortfall.” David Pearson, who lives in Whitchurch Hill and organised the Save Our Bus action group, said: “The councils felt they couldn’t increase tax without a popular mandate and we’ve succeeded in providing that. There are still obstacles to overcome and that’s in the councils’ hands but we’ve told them we’ll do what we can, even if it’s just encouraging more people to use the bus.

“Our survey suggests it’s used by more than 200 people, even if they don’t all use it on the same day or week, so it’s a very important service, especially to people who are elderly or disabled.

“I prefer using it even though I have a car. It’s convenient, sociable and environmentally friendly — and the day may come to us all when we can’t drive any longer.”

Meanwhile, Go Ride’s 134 service from Goring to Wallingford is to be taken over by a community interest company being set up by Mike Ward, of Elvendon Road, Goring.

Mr Ward intends to have either one or two minibuses with paid drivers and agree a timetable with the Traffic Commissioner’s Office.

Go Ride says the route, which goes via South and North Stoke and Crowmarsh, is unprofitable after it lost its county council subsidy and will stop running it from January 28.

The company has already reduced the timetable and stopped accepting 10-trip tickets to save costs.

Mr Ward, who will be helped by South Stoke Parish Council chairman Roy McMillan, hopes to synchronise the timetable with trains at Goring station and possibly add extra stops further west of the village.

Councillor John Wills, vice-chairman of Goring Parish Council, said: “As a community, we greatly value the bus service. I would therefore urge villagers to use it as often as possible over the coming months.

“Those who have concessionary passes will be reassured to know that the county council will reimburse the fares of people who travel for free.

“This means the more people who travel, even if they are pass-holders, the more income will be generated to run the service and hopefully fund some improvements.”

Councillor McMillan said: “It’s a very necessary service for many people in South Stoke because there’s no other form of public transport.”

Published 19/12/16

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