Wrangle over footpath prevents free school transport
PUBLISHED: 19:41 06 September 2019 | UPDATED: 08:33 07 September 2019
A Suffolk family may be forced to fork out hundreds of pounds for school transport for the sake of a disputed few feet of footpath.
James Moore, 11, has just started as a pupil at Holbrook Academy, but Suffolk County Council (SCC) won't pay for school transport for him to go there, claiming East Bergholt High School is nearer.
A new council transport policy states it is only funded to a child's nearest school,
His mother Amanda challenged the decision only for SCC to claim a bridleway near James' home in Tattingstone - which would have been his shortest route to school - had been reclassified and was no longer a public right of way.
SCC argues a 26 foot (8 metre) section of the route, which has been used as public right of way for many years, is actually privately owned by Anglian Water and so cannot be used to determine the distance.
The alternative route calculated by SCC adds a quarter of a mile on to the journey - making East Bergholt closer than Holbrook by just 1,410 feet (430m) closer from their front door.
Anglian Water said it did not believe anyone in particular owned the section of path.
However Mrs Moore will now have to pay to send her son to Holbrook if she is given a 'spare seat' by the county council.
This is where parents pay £700 a year for a seat on a school service which has not been allocated to a student entitled to free transport.
In an email to Mrs Moore, Suffolk County Council said: "A section of the route that we believed to be a Public Right of Way (PRoW) had been included in the distance measurement.
"We referred this to our PRoW team to look at. They have confirmed with us that the section of route in question is owned by Anglian Water and is not an accessible PRoW.
"As a result of both of the above issues being addressed the route has been remeasured."
Mrs Moore said: "I have been banging my head against a brick wall.
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"They have taken the time and the trouble to scrutinise our route yet my son's friends, who live 200 yards away, get on that bus (to Holbrook)."
Mrs Moore is now driving her son to school but is concerned she may have to cut her work hours to be able to pick up her son.
Suffolk County Council has been approached for comment.
Jack Abbott, Labour spokesman for Children's Services and Education at Suffolk County Council, said: "Over and over again I am hearing awful stories about how families have been treated, all of which were eminently avoidable.
"An obscure, eight metre long path has prevented an 11-year-old boy from receiving free school transport.
"He is the only child in Tattingstone who has been affected in this way and the impact that this has had on him and his family was totally preventable.
"It just underlines just how ridiculous this policy is. There is no flexibility, no common sense and no empathy."
He said it was obvious to everyone except SCC education portfolio holder Gordon Jones and his Tory colleagues that the policy "is not fit for purpose".
"It is time they start listening to families, publicly apologise for the mess they have caused and go back to the drawing board. This cannot go on any longer."
The Moores are not the only family to have faced issues under the new school transport policy.
Parents have taken to social media to complain about a wide range of issues under it.
Hundreds of parents reported that they had not received a pass in time for the new school term, despite having applied for passes long before Suffolk County Council's deadline.
Indeed, some families have raised concerns that temporary passes issued by the county council haven't arrived either.
Other families are still waiting to find out if they can pay for a spare seat which costs £700 per child.
Mother of two Karen Murphy, from Hadleigh, whose children go to East Bergholt school, said: "This is a money-saving exercise - I am offering £1,400 to go on a bus that is not even a third full."