Bus worries for large estate

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CONCERN is mounting for residents of a large estate in Bury St Edmunds after FirstGroup announced the end of its bus service in the town.

On Friday, First began informing passengers of its intention to close its bus depot in Bury and end its operations in the town from March 31, leaving residents on Moreton Hall with only Galloways’ 384 and 385 service to Mount Road and Bedingfield Road.

David Shepherd, who lives in Rowan Drive, said: “As I’m now 70, two or three years down the line I’m going to stop driving - how are we supposed to get to town?”

A spokesman for First said operations in Bury had ‘not been commercially viable for some considerable time’ and blamed the latest decision on ‘continued cost increases’ and a 20 per cent reduction in the Bus Service Operators Grant.

He said ‘the withdrawal of services should cause minimal disruption to the majority of existing passengers’ and that no redundancies were anticipated, with every staff member affected being offered employment at its Ipswich depot.

David Ruffley, MP for Bury St Edmunds, called First’s decision to pull out of Bury ‘outrageous’.

In a letter to First this week, he said: “You are giving members of the travelling public just weeks before unilaterally pulling out of Bury. I’m completely appalled by the glib complacency of your statement that the withdrawal of service will cause ‘minimal disruption’.”

He added: “Your company has given us the reason that in Bury your operations ‘have not been commercially viable’. Frankly, there should be no good reason for this except, perhaps, that FirstGroup were not offering a very good service in the first place.”

Speaking to the Bury Free Press, Mr Ruffley said: “Obviously we can’t overturn private companies’ decisions but councils have an obligation to make sure bus services are provided.”

Cllr Guy McGregor, Suffolk County Council’s portfolio holder for roads and transport said: “As the transport coordinating authority for Suffolk and in light of First’s decision to cease operating in Bury, we will fulfil our duty to assess the provision of local bus services.”

This week, Jayne Munson, joint owner of Mulleys, said from March 19 her bus company planned to run a service to Moreton Hall, as well as an additional service from the Nowton estate – via West Suffolk Hospital – into town, but she was unable to provide any details.

“We’re happy to provide a reliable service because that’s something the people of Bury haven’t had,” she said.

Lee Shuttleworth, operations manager for Stephensons of Essex, which launched a bus service in Bury in October last year, said: “We are aware of First’s decision and are looking into extending our service.”