EKPC takes deputation to Leeds Council meeting

A deputation representing East Keswick and Bardsey parents opposed to changes in zero bus fare provision addressed a Leeds City Council meeting at the Civic Hall on Wednesday 23rd March. East Keswick Parish Council’s Chairman, Andrew Batty, was the speaker and he told a packed council meeting that parents felt a great injustice had been done to them.

Previously where parents found there was no school within three miles, the council provided a zero fare bus pass to the nearest schools. Both Boston Spa and Wetherby Schools are roughly equidistant from the villages. Leeds Schools website stated Boston Spa as being a designated recommended school. On that basis, many parents chose Boston Spa school for their children.

‘Now imagine the injustice that parents feel’ Andrew Batty told councillors ‘when they are told that Wetherby and not Boston Spa school is nearer and that only Wetherby pupils are eligible for zero fare. Parents cannot change schools as there no places, even if they were willing to allow their children to be adversely affected by a school change.’

Astonishingly parents were unable to verify the distances themselves. Measurements on Googlemaps are showing Boston Spa is the nearer of the two schools, just as the Leeds Education site had suggested. Ordnance Survey suggests the same.  However, Leeds City Council officers are saying they use a different Dutch mapping system to which the public has no access and therefore no right to challenge themselves.

The definition of nearest school might be down to as little as 50 yards’ difference. Leeds Council officers who attended a packed public meeting organised by East Keswick Parish Council in August 2015 said measurements were going down to the exact distance -perhaps to feet and inches.

Many parents believe it would be wholly unfair to move children part way through their critical secondary education. Wetherby School has insufficient spare places anyway. Parents chose Boston because the Leeds education website certified that that Boston Spa School was eligible.

For parents the extra unplanned-for cost is £9.50 per week. For parents with more than one child at the school that unplanned-for cost is doubled or trebled.  The fare is far higher than First Bus would charge for a week pass, but no service bus is available.

Some parents have already challenged the process, through appeals and the Local Government Ombudsman Service. The Ombudsman has sided with parents and against the council at appeals that have reached his office.

Andrew Batty suggested the way to correct this injustice is simple. It is to allow a margin of tolerance – at council discretion – of half a mile where two schools are nearly equidistant to the communities. ‘Villagers are not asking for favours, only fairness’ he told Councillors.

The Lord Mayor then called councillors to vote on the deputations request and members voted heavily in favour of referring the issue to the Executive Board for a detailed re-examination to then report back to the council in late Spring. Andrew said parents would be delighted by the result which is the best which could have been hoped for.