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Urgent call for Cambridgeshire Mayor to help vital Wisbech Tesco bus running

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A Fenland councillor is calling on Cambridgeshire's mayor to cut the red tape and provide temporary funding for a vital bus service now.

Fenland council leader Chris Boden has already been in correspondence with Mayor Dr Nik Johnson over the number 68 bus which provides a lifeline for families in Wisbech, who do not have cars to access out of town stores and supermarkets.

However, the service run by Fenland Association for Community Transport and known as the Wisbech Tesco Bus is facing a ticking clock with the operator forced to meet a strict legal timetable.

FACT runs bus 68 but is now looking for funding to keep it running.Photo: FACT. (54463000)
FACT runs bus 68 but is now looking for funding to keep it running.Photo: FACT. (54463000)

By law FACT must give 28 days notice to the Department for Transport that it will be ceasing to operate the service. In turn, 28 days before that, FACT must notify the local authority that it is giving notice to the DfT - that deadline was Thursday (February 3).

Bus 68 runs on a circular route between the Horsefair Bus Station and Tesco (Cromwell Road), serving Mount Drive, Ramnoth Road, Weasenham Lane, Railway Road and Queens Road.

It was initially designed through the Wisbech Bus Service Project and was supported by Section 106 developer funding from Tesco, but when that funding ran out in November 2021 Cambridgeshire's former Mayor James Palmer stepped into the breach to offer temporary support from the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority to keep it running until March 31 2022.

FACT runs bus 68 but is now looking for funding to keep it running.Photo: FACT. (54463003)
FACT runs bus 68 but is now looking for funding to keep it running.Photo: FACT. (54463003)

With the March 31 deadline for that funding looming Wisbech Councillor Sam Hoy has also been lobbying for Mayor Dr Johnson to intervene and extend the temporary funding until a permanent solution is found.

Cllr Boden said it is likely the service will be recognised as essential when the mayor's Bus Service Improvement Programme Review is completed later this year. The review is looking at bus services across the county with the aim of providing better targeted services for communities including here in Fenland.

But with the legal deadlines needing to be met by FACT now here Councillors Boden and Hoy were hoping the mayor would step swiftly into the breach and offer further temporary funding.

However, Mayor Dr Johnson has told Cllr Boden: "I appreciate there are some time pressures around this issue and I am reassured that the CPCA team has been working urgently on this issue.

"There are multiple factors at play here. Due diligence and following proper process for the running and support of all bus services provisions across the whole area our CPCA covers needs to be undertaken on an ongoing basis .

"I and the transport team will get back to you at the earliest opportunity when I have been updated of the current position."

Cllr Boden said: "Quite frankly I am at a loss for words with the response I have been given. I'm not convinced that the whole of the county's bus service provision needs to be looked at before a decision can be made on this vital service - we're not talking about huge sums of money and I would have thought the Combined Authority would have the budget to help now before it is too late."

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