436 buses – an endangered species?

Shropshire Council is under enormous financial pressure. Central government funding disadvantages a large rural county like Shropshire, where the population is relatively low. This also means that council tax receipts are relatively low. And because Shropshire is a largely rural county, the cost of delivering services to each household is relatively high. The problem, outside of the larger towns of Shrewsbury, Oswestry, Bridgnorth, Whitchurch, Ludlow and Market Drayton, is “sparsity”.

This problem also means that some services, which might at first glance be expected to pay for themselves, in fact have to be subsidised by Shropshire Council. One of these services is public transport. Shropshire Council has launched a six-week consultation into proposed reductions to its public transport budget, aimed at a budget reduction of £405,000 in the new financial year 2019/20. It is also targeting Shrewsbury Park & Ride service.

If the proposed reductions are implemented it would see a reduction in the number and frequency of bus services subsidised by the Council. For Much Wenlock residents this affects the 436 Bridgnorth-Much Wenlock-Shrewsbury (and return) service. Shropshire Council says “Reduction from a 1 to 2 hourly service. Peak Journey in the morning will operate to Shrewsbury & not Bridgnorth”. I have the following concerns; Much Wenlock residents may have different ones.

  • For non-car users, the 436 is the only practical means, other than private hire cars, of reaching the larger shopping centres of Bridgnorth and Shrewsbury, and villages such as Tasley, Morville, Harley, Crosshouses and Cressage.
  • The proposed timetable will be an unworkable option for work or school. Many sixth form students use the 436. Miss one bus, or have one cancelled (not an unknown occurence), and you’ll be two hours late for college or work. Already, the bus has to drive past students in the morning when there are no seats left. Those left at the bus stop will then either have to wait two hours or find someone with a car to take them to their destination.
  • The Much Wenlock surgery of the medical practice is full to capacity. The Cressage surgery is sometimes offered as an alternative. A two-hour gap between services means a lot of waiting around – in all weathers. And how will this affect patients trying to access Bridgnorth Hospital or the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital? To say nothing of those in the outlying settlements trying to attend the opticians or dentist in Much Wenlock.
  • Of course, we shouldn’t just consider Much Wenlock residents who find the proposed service inconvenient when visiting Bridgnorth or Shrewsbury. What of the Shrewsbury and Bridgnorth residents, who would like to visit Much Wenlock for a bit of retail therapy and maybe a cup of coffee or a meal at our welcoming bars and cafés? Our town is working hard to improve its facilities and events. Removing some of our public transport links will only make it harder for shops and businesses in the town to succeed.
  • Fewer buses will mean more cars in Much Wenlock. Our streets are already full of parked cars and, on busy days, moving traffic. These proposals will increase that pressure on our streets.
  • In addition to the social impact of these changes, I believe there will also be a negative financial impact in the medium to long term. Fewer buses will mean more car use, resulting in more damage to roads,leading to further pressure on Shropshire Council’s highways maintenance budget.
  • Shropshire Council’s Local Plan Review proposes that another 80 houses will be built in the town by 2036. It seems likely that far more than 80 will be built over that period, putting further pressure on commuter routes if the bus service isn’t adequate to provide a convenient service.
  • Over recent months I have chaired a Financial Strategy Task & Finish Group at Shirehall, whose findings fed into the Performance Management Scrutiny Committee. This Committee reported to Shropshire Council’s Cabinet that “The Task and Finish group considered the saving of £717,000 related to Transport identified in the Financial Strategy to be delivered in 2019/20. They sought confirmation of what was included, how it would be delivered and any possible impact of the service delivered. They were informed that in the region of £400,000 would come from efficiencies and that there would also be some further phased savings over the coming years.” This not what I would describe as an efficiency. I urge Shropshire Council’s Cabinet to look elsewhere for savings.

If you share my concerns – or if you think that the proposals are justified – please email your comments on this consultation to: passtrans@shropshire.gov.uk. Alternatively, send a letter to:

Public Transport Consultation
Passenger Transport Services
Shropshire Council
Shirehall
Abbey Foregate
Shrewsbury
SY2 6ND

The closing date for the consultation is 6th May.

Other services

The 18, a subsidised service operated by Arriva, leaves Much Wenlock at 09:25, 11:25, 13:25 and 16:55 Monday – Friday and takes 55 minutes to reach Telford Town Centre. This cannot be described as a commuter service. Buses from Telford arrive in Much Wenlock at 11:24, 13:24 and 15:24. The service is broadly the same on Saturday. There is no Sunday service. It is described in Shropshire Council’s consultation thus: “Currently a 2 hourly service with 7 journeys throughout the day, little scope for amendment.”

On a Tuesday the 860 Lydbury North to Telford service stops at Much Wenlock at 10:00 and the return service stops at 14:10.

The 894 Brookside – Much Wenlock and the 895 The Rock  – Much Wenlock have one bus each way Monday – Friday to serve William Brookes School.  I don’t believe that the 860, 894 and 895 are subsidised and, as commercial services, are not under consideration for change.