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Gritting cuts fuel school bus protest

CHILDREN'S LIVES are being put at risk by cuts in winter maintenance budgets, angry bus operators in Lancashire claimed this week.

A protest committee has been formed by a local bus company and mothers of children in the village of Clitheroe. It meets this week in a bid to persuade Lancashire County Council to reinstate axed rural gritting routes.

Despite threats by the operators that they would cancel school services in icy conditions, Lancashire revealed this week that a further cut of £250,000 was likely to be made from this year's budget.

Heather Hodson, owner of coach operator Hodson's of Gisburn, is spearheading the campaign. She warned it was only a matter of time before there was an accident.

'Some roads are not fit to be on. We sent out two mini-buses last week and we were just praying they got through all right,' she said. 'And the council seems to be washing its hands of it.'

Other school coach firms in the area have also taken action to protect children. Clitheroe-based Town Car Hire, which transports around 60 children to school, wrote to parents last month telling them that they would cancel buses if conditions were dangerous.

A spokesman for Lancashire said that it had spent about £3M gritting roads last year and added that it now treated more roads than it was legally obliged. But he admitted that budget pressures had forced the council to rethink its approach to winter maintenance.

Most councils' advance salting is restricted to less than half its road network. The remainder receives at best only 'reactive' attention late in the day after inter-urban roads, and at least one town access route, have been treated.

North Yorkshire County Council's head of environmental management Mike Masterman claimed: 'We are simply not geared up to the task and would have to at least double our present 100 plus gritting fleet to treat all of our 1,300 school bus routes.'

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