A COUNCIL chief has defended his decision to axe a 'vital' bus service for children travelling from their community to an out-of-zone high school.
Cllr Andrew Needham spoke out this week after he was heavily criticised for ending a service for children in Blacon who choose to attend Upton High School.
Angry mums and dads gathered at Blacon Library on Wednesday last week to voice their disgust at the way they have been treated by transport bosses on Cheshire County Council.
During the summer recess at County Hall, Cllr Andrew Needham, who chairs the county's transport co-ordination committee, agreed to axe a service which each day transported more than 60 children from Blacon to Upton High School.
Transport co-ordination officials asked Cllr Needham to consider the future of the service and presented him with a statement from the opposition spokesmen.
Cllr Needham (Con, Eddisbury) made his decision following reports of bad behaviour from some pupils on the double decker bus and how the cost of operating the service had risen from £9,000 to £25,500 after it had been contracted out to Crosville.
But the move has hit parents in the pocket who choose to send their children to Upton High rather than Blacon High School, which lies outside their normal catchment area.
Cllr Needham, who lives in Tarporley, said sometimes 'agonising decisions' have to be made and explained he did not attend the library meeting because it was a 'local issue'.
'The bus companies declined to carry on with the service because of bad behaviour. None of the bus companies would take it on,' he said.
'A bus company in Llangollen said they would carry it on but there would have been a fantastic increase in price.'
Cllr Needham said bus cuts had affected other non-affluent parts of the county which had forced parents to set up their own minibus school run service.
'Some parents in other parts of the county like Macclesfield have organised their own bus service,' he said.
'Sometimes we do have to make agonising decisions. There was no room for this massive increase.'
Cllr Needham came under fire at last week's meeting after parents in Blacon argued they had not been consulted about the discontinued service.
'We would have liked to have given them more warning but the increase was so prohibitive,' he said.
'All parents had letters. There was a history of problems on that route.'
Transport chiefs say First Crosville informed the county council towards the end of last term that the company wished to surrender the contract and it was then put out to tender.
Cllr Needham added: 'Unfortunately, the lowest tender received was £25,650 almost three times the previous figure and totally unrealistic in these days of financial stringency.
'Ideally we wanted to provide two single-deck buses, but that would have cost over £49,000 completely out of the question.
'Cheshire bus budgets are already under severe pressure and every penny is needed to subsidise routes which provide a vital life-line in the areas they serve.
'It would be impossible for this authority to justify to its taxpayers the expenditure now being demanded.'
The county council says Blacon children affected by the axed service should use public transport or cycle to school on the Millennium Cycleway.