'Unsafe' path fears after Bollington school bus cuts

The Middlewood Way between Bollington and Macclesfield.
Image caption The Middlewood Way runs along the route of a railway line which closed in 1970.

Children as young as 11 will be left to walk nearly three miles to school along an "unsafe" disused railway line amid plans to cancel free bus passes.

Cheshire East Council is to cancel passes for 171 pupils in Bollington, Cheshire, in a move the authority said would "help tackle obesity".

The council said the route had been approved by road safety officers.

However, Emmanuel Botwe, head teacher at nearby Tytherington School, said the route was "simply not safe".

"The council have taken a decision without consultation to withdraw the free service," he said.

"We feel that would be putting youngsters at risk."

Councils are required by law to offer transport to children who do not have a route which can be walked in "reasonable safety".

The Middlewood Way route follows the line of the former Macclesfield, Bollington and Marple railway.

Image caption Parents and pupils spoke to the BBC at the entrance to the disused railway line in Bollington.

George Hayes, deputy cabinet member for children and families, told a meeting the route had been declared safe, but added national rules dictate "personal safety issues of children travelling alone are not to be considered" when assessing walking routes.

He said government guidance meant councils "must look at the relationship between pedestrians and traffic only".

The changes will help the Conservative-controlled authority £495,000 over three years, according to a report.

Parent Sarah Stoddart said: "The Middlewood Way is mostly unlit. You're putting an advert out for every weirdo, every unpleasant person, that you've got young children walking home on their own at dusk."

Janey Parish added: "There are very few people using it, so a child under threat can't alert somebody to their danger, and they will also struggle to escape."

'Existing policy'

Across the wider borough, 505 pupils will have their free school transport entitlement withdrawn in April after available walking routes were "reviewed".

A council spokesman said: "This decision is about fairly applying an existing policy, now that these walking routes have been made available for safe use.

"There are also clear health benefits from getting more of our young people to take regular daily exercise by walking."

He added: "Parents can request a further review of the routes as part of the process moving forward."

Bollington councillor Amanda Stott said the council should have listened to parents before making its decision.

"They should have genuinely listened to their concerns," she said.

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