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Bus Services Bill [HL] - Report (2nd Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:45 pm on 24th October 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 5:45 pm, 24th October 2016

My Lords, Amendment 97 designates certain bus routes as assets of community value. As we discussed in Committee, this amendment builds on the concept of a community asset as identified in the Localism Act 2011. It recognises that some specified services should have a special status that gives communities some protection from them being withdrawn without warning. This provision has particular relevance to isolated rural areas. It recognises that there are some areas where the local bus route is a lifeline for the local community, particularly for the elderly and low-paid residents who rely on the bus to transport them to the nearest shop and workplaces.

Our amendment would allow a community group to apply to the traffic commissioner stating why a particular bus route should be listed as having specific community value. It would then have to make the case as to how the community depended on the service and what the wider social damage would be if the service was withdrawn. If successful, this would give the community some protection from the service being cut or closed without notice. At a minimum, it would give them six months’ notice of closure, which would allow space for alternative owners or service providers to emerge. It would also draw the community group to the attention of the council, which may be able to intervene on their behalf.

When we discussed this in Committee, the Minister expressed some sympathy with the aims of our amendment and agreed that there was more that we could do to champion the community transport sector. He also emphasised the need for improved training for community groups so that they could better understand the options available to them.

However, he and several other noble Lords raised concerns about a six-month delay in cutting services while the community consultation takes place. We have considered this again but do not think the timescale unreasonable. It is unlikely that bus operators make snap decisions on route profitability; it is more likely a long-term investment decision. All we ask for is the community to be alerted to a potential decision with enough notice to find an alternative supplier. I hope noble Lords will be sympathetic to our proposals and that the Minister will be able to support our amendment.