EXPECTING pupils to walk a six mile round journey to school is unreasonable, say Plaid Cymru councillors in Carmarthenshire. They’ve called on the Welsh Labour Government to bring in urgent legislation to review the 80-year-old two/three mile rule for primary and secondary schools and fund appropriate bus services.
They’re also urging the Welsh Government to lobby the UK Government to allow a permanent exemption for councils who provide free transport for pupils with disability issues. The call follows distress caused to parents and children in the Llanelli constituency after some local bus companies stopped providing school services because they didn’t have full disabled compliant vehicles, as required by new UK Department of Transport legislation.
Plaid Cymru has also has accused Llanelli AM Lee Waters of ‘blatant hypocrisy’ in blaming the county council for the problem. They claim that as Deputy Transport Minister in the Welsh Government, he is well placed to change the law.
“In seeking to make cheap political capital out of this issue, Lee Waters has shown staggering hypocrisy. He could better serve the children and parents of his Llanelli constituency and the rest of Wales by persuading his Labour colleagues in Cardiff to introduce new legislation on the walk to school distance,” said Council Leader Emlyn Dole.
“He’s putting his own narrow personal political interest before the welfare of the people of Wales as a whole. That is not acceptable behaviour by a Government minister. The Labour Government in Cardiff has the power to sort this out. They should get on with it at once.”
Plaid Cymru insists that councils are allowed a ‘temporary exemption’ to procure (i.e.pay for) a bus service until the end of July. But if the council started its own service for schools in one part of the county, it would lay itself open to legal challenge by thousands of parents from all over Carmarthenshire. A temporary exemption has also been granted for school bus services where up to 20% of seats are available for fare paying passengers – but only until the end of this year.
“The law should be changed to allow a permanent exemption for councils who already provide free transport for children and young people with disability issues,” said Cllr Dole. “This power lies in London, and Lee Waters and his Labour Welsh Government should be lobbying them for a change in the law, rather than mounting a vindictive and unfair campaign against Carmarthenshire County Council.”
Plaid Cymru councillors claim that reducing the walk to school distance and providing appropriate transport would also cut harmful vehicle emissions, especially near schools.
“Many hundreds of parents are bringing their children to school by car because it simply isn’t an option to let their children walk up to six miles a day in every weather all year round,” said Cllr Aled Vaughan Owen. “The school-run traffic can contribute to poor air quality in towns and villages, and in particular in the vicinity of schools. Reducing the distance and providing a proper bus service would alleviate the chaotic traffic situation near schools twice a day and cut pollution from private cars.”
Defending his position Lee Waters said: “I’m very disappointed that once again Plaid Cymru have chosen to attack me personally to deflect from their own decisions.
“I’ve consistently said that the UK Government needs to step in to sort out this mess. I wrote to the Secretary of State for Wales weeks ago to ask him to intervene, but his reply makes it clear that there are things Carmarthenshire Council can already do to sort out the buses. So far the council have proved very reluctant to take those steps.
“The 3 mile limits were introduced by Plaid Cymru’s Ieuan Wyn Jones and are the same as the limits all over the rest of the UK. Changing the law would take months, and won’t help the pupils across Carmarthenshire who have been left without school transport since Christmas.
“The best solution is for the UK Government to grant an exemption, and I’ll continue to make the case on behalf of pupils and parents. In the meantime, Carmarthenshire could step in.”