Wrexham parents lose fight to keep free transport for pupils

Reporter:

Matt SIms

ANGRY parents have lost their battle to keep free transport for their children to the schools of their choice.

Pupils across the county borough will be given free buses to their nearest school only, following a massive overhaul of Wrexham’s school transport policy.

The changes, which members of Wrexham Council have been trying to introduce for years, were finally approved by executive board members yesterday by a majority of six to three. They will come into force in 2012.

Dozens of placard-waving protesters had descended on the Guildhall as councillors met for crunch talks about the controversial school transport issue.

They were furious the plans to stop subsidised transport for pupils travelling to schools outside the county.

The move has drawn widespread condemnation from parents and community leaders in Chirk, Marchwiel and Llay.

Emotions ran high at the packed meeting, with one councillor being warned for launching a personal attack on a colleague.

The new rules will mean pupils across the county who live more than three miles from a secondary and more than two miles from a primary will get a free bus to their nearest school only.

As a result:
- Pupils in Chirk, Garth and Fron will no longer get free transport to Ysgol Dinas Bran in Llangollen
- Children in the Marchwiel area will have to pay if they want to travel to the Maelor School, Penley, and
- Pupils in the Llay area will no longer get free transport to Castell Alun, Hope.

Speaking immediately afterwards Chirk mum Cerys Reynolds, who will have to send one of her daughters to Dinas Bran and the other to Ysgol Rhiwabon from 2012, condemned the decision.

“I am absolutely appalled,” she said. “I will not be able to afford the bus to send my youngest daughter to Dinas Bran, which means I’ll have a child in one school and one in another. I was promised I would be able to send all my children to Dinas Bran, and that promise has been broken.”

Marchwiel councillor June Fearnall claimed the change could also have a huge impact on Maelor School admissions and the school might have to rely on youngsters from England to continue.

“It could be starved of pupils if we are not careful. Survival may depend on English pupils coming over the border,” she said.

Cllr Neil Rogers said: “I think if you adopt his policy it impacts on other areas across the county borough, not just Chirk.

“When people in Llay and Marchwiel find out the impact this is going to have on them I’m sure it is going to cause outrage for them as well.” Members who supported the implementation of the new policy said it would remove ‘inequalities’ that exist now and would bring Wrexham in line with other local authorities.

Cllr David Bithell said: “I think we can clutch at straws but this is an historical issue and it is one we haven’t dealt with for a long, long time.

“This means we will have a policy that is fair to all.”

But critics said it would only create further inequality, with only better off families able to pay for school transport to send youngsters to preferred schools.

For more than 100 years children in Chirk have attended Ysgol Dinas Bran as their first choice school.

Chirk North councillor Ian Roberts said: “This is our history in Chirk and we expect people to think about us. This is part of our heritage.”

His counterpart in Chirk South, Terry Evans, said: “What you are talking about is segregation and breaking up families and breaking up the community.”

Cllr Evans was warned about his conduct by council leader Aled Roberts after he told Plaid Cymru Cllr Arfon Jones he should be “ashamed” of introducing a policy which could see more youngsters from Wrexham going to school in England.

Cllr Jones pointed out this would not be the case, as parents who wanted to send their child to a Welsh school, even if it was not their nearest, would still be able to do so.

See full story in the Leader

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