Three families have been told they will lose free school buses because a resurfaced 2.5 mile bridleway is now deemed a safe route to Mildenhall College Academy.
But the families are being backed on social media by other West Row villagers who remember their Suffolk County Councillor, now council leader, Colin Noble telling a public meeting in 2013 that if the bridleway was turned into a cycleway it would not be used as a reason to withdraw school transport.
As the Bury Free Press reported in October 2013, he stressed: “It’s not a safe route. It won’t be lit.”
But three families in Pott Hall Road, with five children at the college, received a letter this week from the county’s school transport department saying: “It has recently come to light that as the infrastructure has developed on the Wamil Way bridleway, there is an alternative route from your home to Mildenhall College Academy which is under the three-mile limit – meaning entitlement to free school transport no longer exists.”
Laura Chisholm, whose son Jack, 12, will lose free transport from December 20, said: “I was shocked when I got the letter. The road they want my son to walk on to get to the bridleway has no footpath.
“The thought of that bridleway scares the hell out of me – there’s no lighting, the bushes are overgrown, it’s caked with dog poo and there’s drug paraphernalia on it.”
Her neighbour Caroline Savage’s two sons Ben, 15, and Josh, 12, will lose entitlement as the winter term starts.
“There’s no shelter along there,” she said. “We had a flasher there a few years ago – it’s a perverts’ paradise once they realised kids are using it for school.”
The mothers deny county claims they had letters about it as long ago as Christmas.
Cllr Noble said: “I made the comment on lighting, but that isn’t in the national guidelines.”
Suffolk uses the professional organisation Road Safety GB and Royal Society for the Prevention of Accident guidelines.
Cllr Noble said the route was assessed in April and the council’s mapping programmes gave the distance from Pott Hall Road to the college’s Bury Road campus as ‘not much under three miles’.
A sat nav using Ordnance Survey maps gave a walking route from the beginning of the bridleway to the school as 2.9 miles, so anyone living further than 176 yards from its start should still qualify for free transport.
Cllr Noble said: “I understand what Mrs Chisholm is saying, but when we apply the critera, it meets that standard.
“It’s the parents’ responsibility to get children to school. If they don’t want them to do that route, it’s for them to walk their children to school.
“Children all over Suffolk walk to school and most paths are not sheltered.”
The county says the changes do not apply to pupils who had free school transport before September 2015.