To consider the presentation and documentation of the appellant, outlining their reasons for appeal.
The appellant expressed their gratitude to the Committee for having walked the route and noted that the impact the distance had on the children was noticeable. The appellant accepted the financial situation that the County Council was in but believed that the situation for Ancells Farm was unique.
The appellant explained how Ancells Farm had been built thirty years ago, and as there was no School on the estate a bus service was provided to the local school. The appellant stated they believe the decision to remove this service had been rushed and not properly scrutinized following comments made by their local MP and District Council. The appellant highlighted that the issue was in relation to her child being four years old, which is not the statutory school age, when starting in September. However a response from the Department of Education had stated that the Government expected Local Authorities to provide transport using their discretionary powers.
The appellant finished by noting that their child would start school with other children using the Bus Service, and as they would all receive the same education, abide by the same code of conduct at the school etc. they should also have the same transport options available to them. The appellant noted that as a seat would be provided for their child the following year, this probably meant there would be an empty seat on the bus waiting for them up until this point.
The appellant noted that there were many unsafe aspects of the route which had been identified by Fleet but disregarded by Hampshire County Council (HCC) which were noticeable when navigating the route this morning. The following were highlighted as particular issues;
· Cove Road crossing – two traffic analysis have taken place on this road which have both identified a heavy flow of traffic. The refuge in the road is required but is very small.
· Train Station Area – has a footpath but it is very narrow and slanted. Commuters use this area and get frustrated by slow pedestrians.
· Business Park Crossing – this area is difficult to cross and a child would not have clear site lines at the crossing points. A driver may not be able to see the child either.
The appellant finished by noting that Ancells farm is an estate without a school, segregated by a train line and that a commitment was made by HCC to provide a bus service. If this is continued for children aged 5-8 years old then it is inadequate not to provide to other ages also.
With the Chairman’s agreement, Cllr Collett (Councillor for Yateley East & Blackwater) spoke on behalf of the appeal.
Cllr Collett explained that his division included the area before the railway and that Cllr Forster was the County Councillor for the Fleet Town, the area south of the railway.
Cllr Collett explained how Ancells Farm estate was built in the 1980’s and the plan originally included a Primary School; the developer was to provide the land and HCC was to build the school. However, as Fleet Primary school had surplus space it was decided not to build a second school and instead to provide transport from the new estate to the school regardless of age or status. Cllr Collett noted that since this point, individuals have moved into the area on the basis that a bus was provided for School transport.
In relation to the safety of the route Cllr Collett noted that he believe that the case for unaccompanied children was clear and that this was a question in relation to accompanied children. Cllr Collett added that he was shocked that HCC used the Road Safety Great Britain standards for safety assessment, noting that they were not used for general highways but recognising this was the policy on which the route must be judged.
Cllr Collett raised the following issues in relation to the route;
· When leaving the state the route has an alley way with a 90 degree turn up hill with a gradient which could prove problematic with a push chair, wheelchair of child’s scooter.
· Cove road crossing was easier that morning due to the presence of officers wearing high visibility jackets. There is a steep slope at the stepping off point with a possibility of rolling into the road. The island refuge on the road is small when considering the number of children who will be walking to school.
· There are a number of issues around the Train station such as;
o The road on approach to the station had a number of cars leaving their driveways posing a hazard for pedestrians. This road is also not level posing a risk for push chairs etc.
o Commuters walking to the train are in a hurry and will overtake slowing pedestrians leading to the chance of accidents.
o Past the bridge to the station there is a free parking area with an increased number of commuters and there are often bikes locked to the railings on the path.
o The road entrance to the Station is laid out in an unusual way so that it is difficult to judge which direction cars will travel in with two options on a left turn. On the other side parked vehicles provide obstacles for sight lines.
· There is confusion over cycle paths and encouragement/permission to use the pavement on the later part of the route.
Cllr Collett stated that he thought there was no doubt that the route was not safe and that he could see how distressed the children were at the length of the walk, compounded by the whether conditions. Cllr Collett noted that this would distract a parent, making them potentially less aware of the hazards around them.
In response to questions members heard that;
· The appellant considered there to be different hazards for the return journey as sunset can be during the journey in the winter and make the tricky points on the route more of an issue. Additionally the children will be tired from their day at school and the journey home will be at a slower pace and rush hour traffic will be present.
· The appellant was currently sending her older son to school on the bus and her daughter was in nursery. The appellant accompanied her son to the bus at 8:10am and would collect him at 3:30pm. The appellant started work at 9am and would drop her daughter with a family member on the way who would take her to nursery.
· Cllr Collett had been the County Councillor for a number of years and had been able to have some success in improving road safety in the area the route crosses. This included the installation of the islands on Cove road, resurfacing of the pavement near the station and a new safe crossing on Ancells road. Cllr Collett believed he has had a degree of success in improving the route but some issues could not be address due to lack of available funds or, in the case of the area outside the station, there not being much more that can be done.