BOROUGH chiefs will look to close a policy loophole which means some rural students qualify for free school transport – on buses that do not exist.

At the full council meeting of Cheshire West and Chester Council on Thursday, members unanimously agreed that the local authority should review its school transport policy regarding catchment areas.

Cllr Eveleigh Moore Dutton, CWAC member for Tarporley, described the move as a ‘a bit of a no brainer’ to resolve an issue affecting families in her own ward – as well as areas like Tarvin, Oakmere and Delamere.

She said: “We are in a situation where in part of my ward, families are told that the child is entitled to free school transport but only if it goes to the school where there is no bus running.

“In some cases there is a bus running at the end of their drive to Tarporley, and you can understand how parents can feel aggrieved and let down when they are told they can have free transport on a bus that doesn’t exist.

“So I have tried to come up with a [motion] that will solve this, and possibly even be cost-neutral, but serve our residents – which is my priority.”

Children aged under eight-years-old currently qualify for free school travel if their nearest school is more than two miles away, while youngsters aged eight to 16 qualify if they live more than three miles away from their nearest school.

CWAC reviewed its school transport policy in 2014, removing a discretionary element which related to catchment areas – and this is the cause of the problem for some rural families.

It is hoped that by reinstating this, CWAC will resolve situations where students in rural areas who qualify for free transport are currently refused a seat on existing, convenient buses, because they are not travelling to the student’s nearest school.

Cllr Pat Merrick, Labour member for Rossmore, said: “I don’t think there’s any need to debate this. All we want is the discretionary element that was introduced in 2014 to be reintroduced.

“That might save the appeals committee meeting quite so often.”

A CWAC scrutiny committee is also set to look at the value for money of its school transport procedures, to see if families should be allowed to make an alternative transport choice that could save the council money.

Cllr John Leather, Conservative member for Tarvin and Kelsall, added: “In the rural area there are few feasible alternatives to the school bus other than the car, leading to congestion around the school and associated emissions.

“It can’t be right for parents to have to worry every year about whether their child will again be allocated a spare seat on the school bus.

“It can’t be right for parents to have to consider non-catchment, non-feeder primary schools, in order to obtain school transport.”