Agenda item

Motion submitted by Councillor Dr Haq Nawaz

Motion submitted by Councillor Dr Haq Nawaz concerning bus services in Fenland.


Councillor Nawaz presented his motion regarding Fenland bus services in Fenland.


Councillor Nawaz stated that as seen in the previous motion, this Council puts community at the centre of everything and it is the aim of members to try to make things that little bit better and easier for its residents. Transport is an integral part of everyday living, so much depends on it and for some, public transport is the only means to get anywhere; the most convenient form of public transport for many, particularly in this area, being a bus. Unfortunately, the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority’s (CPCA) Local Transport and Connectivity Plan (LTCP) does not adequately cater for the needs of Fenland residents. Statistics show that Fenland, particularly the north, has some of the most deprived wards in Cambridgeshire and the CPCA has let Fenland down again. Councillor Seaton has worked very hard with the Transport and Infrastructure Committee but Councillor Nawaz himself has attended various meetings and lobbied to highlight the deficiencies within that local plan and promises made by the Mayor of the CPCA have not transpired. Despite there now being a few more services in the evenings, there is no adequate or, in some cases, no services at all at weekends. However, life does not stop at the weekend, and it is concerning that the authors of this plan have not considered the needs of the rural communities of Fenland that need public transport. He expressed his disappointment that the CPCA does not share his concerns despite repeated representations over a considerable period, hence the need for this motion.


Councillor Christy seconded the motion, and it was opened for debate. Members made comments as follows:


1.    Councillor Patrick said he fully supports this motion having watched the level of bus services decrease over the years. Villages have been left isolated and he feels that as an area of deprivation, Fenland residents are probably going to be funding the cost of providing transport for better off areas. This Council must fight to improve services so that people can get to work or wherever they need to go, reduce social isolation, and create something that is beneficial for everybody within this district.

2.    Councillor Count thanked Councillor Nawaz for bringing forward the motion, providing a chance to highlight deficiencies and what is being offered for the people of Fenland at the cost of £36 for a Band D household. In his view, being told the £36 precept is to improve bus services is poppycock firstly because the Mayor failed to get the bus service improvement plan money. He is the only Combined Authority Mayor in the country to fail to get that money and if a decent plan had been put before Government and the funding received then local people would not have been taxed in this way. Secondly, it is supposed to be based on a bus strategy that is published and consulted upon, however what was published and consulted upon was a wish list. Everything possible was named for an all-singing all-dancing bus network but no actual plan was put in. This motion exemplifies why Fenland particularly has been let down. Looking at any desired consequence that could be delivered with a decent bus strategy through the eyes of residents, better health outcomes, better education, economic growth, than Fenland deserves it more than most. He did thank the Mayor however because Christchurch is now getting two buses, but he is astounded to find that the parish council knew nothing about this, and Christchurch residents have not had any input as to whether the planned routes are even suitable. Elsewhere, Turves has no public transport whatsoever; it cannot be right to subsidise an enhanced route around Cambridge City while whole villages are left with no support at all because there was no strategy. Finally, whilst this was the Mayor’s lone decision to have a precept, saying this money is to deliver bus services, in the meantime £3.85m has been spent on subsidising bus travel for under 25-year-olds. How could he explain to a pensioner with no access to public transport but having to pay the precept out of their pension that they are subsidising a young person with a good job in the centre of Cambridge so they can go home at midnight after a night out. This cannot be justified. 

3.    Councillor Carney thanked Councillor Nawaz for the motion and commented that he used to drive for Stagecoach, operating out of Ely across Fenland. He left when Stagecoach pulled their routes across Cambridgeshire, one of which was highly profitable, but Stagecoach said it was not viable. How could it not be viable when it was guaranteed to fill a double decker bus? What seems prevalent in this area is that the bus service is disjointed; speaking to residents he hears how they cannot get from one area to another easily without having to change buses and they highlight exactly what is wrong with public transport in this area. He remembers talk some time ago of the CPCA franchising the bus route across Cambridgeshire, which he knows happened in London and increased bus usership, he has not heard any further talk of this, but it would be good to see the CPCA putting money where its mouth is.

4.    Councillor Cutler said she supports the motion and echoes Councillor Patrick’s comments, particularly for the rural villages where there are no buses let alone a limited service.

5.    Councillor Clark said that in his eight years as a Conservative Councillor, bus services were in decline partly due to reduced Government support. After the election of a CPCA Conservative mayor, which assumed transport responsibilities for the County Council, bus services further declined. After the last election, the new Labour mayor, Dr Nik Johnson, found the authority in disarray, poorly set up with a high turnover of staff but it has now turned a corner with an experienced Chief Executive with much set up to deliver for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. The increase in the precept was not the sole decision of the mayor but was democratically voted through by the Combined Authority Board. Councillor Clark added that he understands that the Fenland member did not vote or speak on this but left the meeting early and was not replaced by a substitute. The Mayor said in a press release that following the decision, the CPCA could offer more routes, more frequently, and serving more people more conveniently than is currently the case.  Councillor Clark suggested that rather than keep playing politics in this and previous meetings with the CPCA, perhaps it is time to engage and work with them for the benefit of Fenland. Mayor Johnson is likely to be re-elected for a further term from 2025, therefore he is unable to support this motion as he would like to see the Council work closer with the CPCA for a better outcome for Fenland.

6.    Councillor Hoy said she had to challenge what Councillor Clark said and recalled that he was the Leader of this council when the CPCA was being pushed by this Council, and people were saying that there would be issues caused by having another layer of government. She does not believe that Mayor Johnson will win another term because he has delivered nothing for Fenland apart from a couple of buses. Councillor Hoy added that she took exception to party political point scoring regarding the fact that members sometimes miss meetings; this can be for good reason, often relating to health or other personal matters.

7.    Councillor Tierney said he found Councillor Clark’s remarks concerning the high turnover of staff at the CPCA under the previous mayor to be ill-informed.

8.    Councillor Christy stated that he calls on full Council to support this motion, and to lobby the CPCA for the services that Fenland needs. He said that FACT Community Transport provides a number of bus services for the CPCA, being routes taken over when Stagecoach ceased their services. Services in Fenland have been rapidly declining due to this, but the problem goes back further to the CPCA’s failure to secure any funding during the Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) funding rounds in 2022. Councillor Christy added that he believed the CPCA were the only combined authority that failed to secure any funding whatsoever. In contrast the North East CA secured £163.5m, the West of England CA £105.5m and Greater Manchester CA £94.8m. Closer to home, Norfolk County Council was awarded £49.6m and Hertfordshire County Council £29.7m. The explanation given for the CPCA getting nothing was their bid was not ambitious and lacked innovation. Although in the further rounds the CPCA was awarded £2.3m for each of the periods 23/24 and 24/25 under the BSIP+ awards, by context Hertfordshire County Council was awarded a further £2.97m BSIP+ funding on top of their already awarded £29.7m BSIP funding. Councillor Christy said he wanted to raise attention to this for two reasons.  Firstly, as this motion states, Fenland’s LTCP continues to lack ambition and innovation, it does not address the needs of residents, and Fenland is not receiving its fair share of the available funding from the proposals put forward for the district.  Meanwhile empty buses continue to drive across Fenland as the service is not fit for purpose and needs to change. This is all at the cost of the taxpayer as operators continue to be paid even if their buses are empty. Secondly public transport need is expected to grow as it is increasingly seen as a lever to drive social and economic growth. This growth is driven by the younger generation of transport user for work and leisure. In Fenland bus services need to grow in quality, frequency, and coverage so that this generation can access employment and further education. 

9.    Councillor Nawaz summed up by addressing the points made by Councillor Clark and said that this motion has nothing to do with party politics. On a personal level he has an excellent rapport with Mayor Johnson but what matters is what happens to the residents he represents and the impact that the policies that he is putting forward. Councillor Nawaz added that did not name the Mayor and it was Councillor Clark that brought politics into the debate. The case is overwhelming, Councillor Christy and other members have highlighted in detail the issues and discrepancies there are. The Mayor has trebled the original precept from £12 to £36 whilst reducing bus services hence this Motion.


The Motion was approved.


(Councillors Boden, Christy and Seaton each declared a non-pecuniary interest as trustees of Fenland Community Transport (FACT), which provides some bus services within Fenland, with Councillor Christy also declaring that he is Chairman of the trustees, and his wife works for FACT, but as each can exercise judgement without prejudice, will participate in the debate).


(Councillor Gowler left the meeting at 5.00pm during the discussion on this item and was not present for the vote or the remaining agenda items).


(Councillor Kim French left the meeting at 5.20pm following this item).


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