TRANSPORT chiefs have made a U-turn over plans to axe a daily bus service to Helsby High School - but warn a parent-funded scheme could be on the horizon.
Controversial proposals to cut one of three No.24 services from Kingsley and Frodsham to Chester Road school, as part of a Cheshire County Council cost cutting exercise to balance the 2003/4 bus budget, have been withdrawn.
News of the move came as the county council's environment executive Andrew Needham axed a string of under-used subsidised services following a full council debate at County Hall in Chester.
The move followed a failed attempt by Labour's environment spokesman Cllr David Robinson who called on the environment executive not to slash thousands of pounds from the bus budget.
Cllr Robinson, whose amendment was defeated by a vote, told a full council meeting at County Hall that the cuts were opposed by Cllr Elspeth Wallace, chair of the transport board.
He said: 'It will be the old and the young who will suffer most as a result of these cuts. It is the most vulnerable members of society who rely on these services and see them as lifelines.'
At the end of the meeting, Cllr Needham put the bus cut plans into action. School services for out of zone pupils who attend Aston Primary, Tarporley High, Christleton High and in-zone pupils who attend St Werburgh & St Columba's Primary in Hoole, Chester, will be retained until December. This will enable the schools to discuss with parents proposals for setting up parent-funded travel schemes, with the help of the county council.
At Helsby High, the No.24 Kingsley service will be retained for the foreseeable future, but the possibility of setting up a parent-funded travel scheme will be discussed with the school.
The immediate news will be welcomed by scores of parents who wrote letters to transport chiefs in a bid to save the service.
However, the news could put an extra burden on parents if they are called to organise their own transport for pupils in the future.
With help from the county council, they may be forced to search for their own contracts and deal with future funding problems that may arise.
A third bus service was introduced last year at the school after two similar buses failed to cope with demand.
Cheshire County Council is not legally obliged to provide transport for out of zone pupils and parents initially feared some children would have had to walk home if the service was axed.
Plans to introduce parent-funded schemes were attacked by Cllr Derek Bould.
'It seems a joke to me to suggest that parents get together and organise school transport for their children,' he said. 'Do you expect parents to prepare contracts?'