Cuts to Blaenau Gwent pupils' free transport scrapped

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Plans to phase out a free travel grant of £150 for students aged 16-19 were also rejected by the council

Plans to withdraw free transport for hundreds of Blaenau Gwent students have been halted after a public backlash.

The county borough council's executive voted against changing its home to school transport policy for primary and secondary school pupils.

It means free travel will continue to be provided to primary age pupils who live more than 1.5 miles from school.

Secondary school pupils living more than two miles from school will also still have access.

An option put out for public consultation proposed changing the limits to primary school pupils living more than two miles and to secondary pupils living more than three miles from their nearest school.

This would have affected 549 students.

'Morally right'

Plans to phase out a free travel grant of £150 for students aged 16-19 were also rejected by the council.

Leader of the council Nigel Daniels said changing the policy would be "contradictory and counterproductive" to the authority's educational aims.

He said: "While there are significant savings potentially for this authority there's got to be a moral question as well.

"Would I be wanting my grandchildren to be walking three miles from home to school? I think the simple answer to that is no.

"I think morally we have to do the right thing."

The plans faced significant public opposition with a petition signed by 570 people, a protest walk taking place in Cwm and more than 1,000 people saying they disagreed or strongly disagreed in a questionnaire.

Nick Smith, the MP for Blaenau Gwent, AM Alun Davies and the council's Labour group also opposed the plans.

Parents raised concerns over proposed "safe walking" routes to school and the availability of public transport in the area, the meeting heard.

Councillor John Mason said he feared changing the policy could create difficulties for people in deprived areas accessing education.

"We could well inadvertently create a two-tier system where the people who can afford it can go by their own means or by public transport but people will face difficulties in the deprived areas," he said.

The executive voted unanimously to maintain the current home to school limits and to keep the post 16 travel grant.

Councillor Daniels added that the policy would not be looked at again in the "lifetime of the current administration."