Kingseat route to school concerns central to petition debate
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Member of the Garioch area committee listened to concerns raised by parents over the withdrawal of school transport from Kingseat this week.
Aberdeenshire Council wrote to families in Kingseat earlier this year to advise that it was withdrawing its school transport for the village which took children to Newmachar for school.
It said that due to the completion of a path, the route was deemed safe for children to walk, and the distance is less than two miles.
Parents hit out at the decision, and said it would leave them having to walk for ovcr 40 minutes in each direction in all weathers to Newmachar School while dropping off and picking up children.
A petition raised by parents gained 332 signatures and under council rules had to be heard by councillors for discussion.
Representing the signatories, local parent Jade Todd who addressed the meeting explained that Aberdeenshire Council, School Transport decided to permanently withdraw the school bus service from Kingseat to Newmachar Primary School which has been in operation since Kingseat community was developed 13 years ago.
Parents had paid for the service until January 2020 when the council advised it would be free going forward but when the school closed in March, there was no indication the bus service was at threat.
Prior to term restarting families using the service have received a letter stating the footpath link between Kingseat and Newmachar is a safe walking route for children therefore the bus would no longer operate.
In a lengthy debate the followed, councillors heard from head of transport Euan Wallace and transport officer Sean Jamieson on the issues that had lead to the service being withdrawn.
Central to the issue it was stressed was not the financial implication which many parents had seen to be the single deciding factor.
The decision to remove the service had been necessitated by a change in legislation over buses to schools, in as much as school services have to meet accessibility criteria and be free of charge.
Aberdeenshire Council could not therefore operate a school service on the basis that it had been operating.
Conversely, private services were non-existent for Kingseat and those bus routes that had operated previous had been stopped due to lack of use by the operators.
Councillors also heard of concerns over the safety of the route, which runs between the main road and farm land.
They included one particular section which runs over a bridge with a water course underneath and section near Newmachar where there is no crossing point.
Chairman of the committee councillor Fergus Hood sided with the parents over the route and said: "Having walked the route many times myself, when the housing was built it was implicit that this was a leisure route for locals to access Newmachar, it was never intended as the main route to school."
Points of council policy were also raised as officers were concerned that the reintroduction of a bus, given the distance from the school would have a considerable knock-on effect across Aberdeenshire for other schools.
As transport officer Sean Jamieson noted: "Aberdeenshire is already generous in how it applies national policy as from the age of eight, the distance for school transport should be three miles, not two."
Councillor Judy Whyte said: "It is clear in this case that officers have worked within policy but there are clearly safety matters which have arisen coming from the petition and I would ask that a report is taken forward on the matter to come back to committee."
This was accepted fully by all members and it was added by councillor Martin Ford that the report should also look a both the policy implication of providing a school bus to Kingseat in terms of fairness to all other schools, and what the options were for providing what would be a non-school bus through private operators.
Officers will now take forward the report which will return for scrutiny before a decision is taken forward over any action on the issue.