On Wednesday ( 26 August) a public meeting was held in Upchurch Village Hall. There were about 70 people there from Upchurch and Lower Halstow and they had gathered to protest about the severe reductions in their bus service, through the villages.
On 1st September the Chalkwell 327 will run so infrequently that the villagers regard as no service at all. Chalkwell point out that current usage is not commercially viable, whilst the village says that with the new service even fewer journeys will be made, until there is no bus service at all.
A panel had been set up, chaired by 2 residents and including a representative from Chalkwell, a Borough Councillor for Upchurch, the Upchurch County Councillor and myself as one of the County members for Lower Halstow.
Since the days of Thatcher bus services have been run on the basis that Companies will provide profitable services whilst County Councils will subsidise unprofitable but socially necessary routes. The trouble is, of course, that under the Government’s austerity policy, it is local government that is hit hardest and so all over the country bus routes are being severely cut, due to a lack of public transport funding.
One of the major causes of anger in Upchurch and Lower Halstow is the perception that the decision has been taken without any public consultation. Chalkwell said they had agreed the timetable changes with KCC, but neither I nor the Swale West County Councillor had been given any notice about this.
This is highly plausible. KCC consultations are frequently very hard to pin down, and not only are members of the public left in the dark, but elected members likewise. In recent weeks I have not been told about a variety of matters, such as the postponement of road surfacing in Swanstree Avenue, but I am given generous notice of developments that hardly concern my constituents, such as road works at Boughton under Blean, or footpath repairs in Graveney.
The problem with the 327 is that the changes are now in place. We will press to get a compromise change as soon as possible but what is clear is that, contrary to Government claims, public services in the rural areas are in decline. This is what austerity means. It’s hard not to think that some of the people who vote for austerity somehow imagine that it is others who will lose benefits, and not themselves.
Councillor Roger Truelove