THE parents of a pupil at Amery Hill School in Alton are urging Hampshire County Council to undertake “an urgent safety assessment” of the proposed walking route after Hampshire Home to School Transport made last-minute changes to the bus pick-up point for youngsters living in the Boyneswood Road area of South Medstead.
David and Karen Lewis believe that the decision will put lives at risk and serves to reinforce a view that Hampshire County Council is prepared to “put cost saving ahead of child safety”.
Originally, their 13-year old daughter was assigned to bus route 53039 which would have picked up near to her home, in the lay-by at Chawton Park Woods. But within a 12-day period in the run-up to the start of the new school year, which began on Tuesday (September 4), the instructions were changed and she has now been assigned to bus route 60999 which picks up on the A31, opposite Telegraph Lane, in adjoining Four Marks.
The couple are deeply concerned that the change, which will see their daughter having to cross busy junctions and roads to access footpaths before walking the tight-rope which is Boyneswood Road bridge, will put her at risk, both on the journey to and from the bus stop.
They have experienced at first hand the trauma of having a child knocked over by a car on Boyneswood Road, after their son was involved in an accident three years ago, and they now fear for the safety of his younger sister. He was 13 at the time and sustained a broken leg.
According to Mr Lewis, having quizzed Hampshire Home to School Transport about the changes to the pick-up point he was told that it had to do with balancing out the number of passengers on the two bus routes, operated by Cresta and Stagecoach.
While the capacity was said to be “in the wrong place”, rather than put on a third bus to service the existing stops, the decision had been taken to make the most of the existing two by re-directing students to different bus stops.
Having deleted Chawton Park Woods the company has added a stop along Five Ash Road but, because there is no pavement and no lighting down Red Hill, the children are unable to walk in that direction and instead have been directed along Boyneswood Road to the A31.
Mr Lewis pointed out that, as well as being more than half a mile away from the original pick-up point, the journey to the new stop will involve walking and crossing an unlit road which has a number of feeder roads to cross, many with poor sight lines, and which bottle-necks across the railway bridge, resulting in queuing traffic.
Plus there are the additional hazards of speeding and parked vehicles and, currently, construction vehicles accessing the various development sites in the area.
And then they have to negotiate the Victorian bridge over the Watercress Line which is now operated as priority one-way traffic with kerbstones along one side marking out a pedestrian walkway.
In a letter to Hampshire County Council, Mr Lewis wrote: “Crossing the bridge is very dangerous - many pedestrians have had close misses, been clipped by wing mirrors etc..”
While many of the kerbstones have been hit by cars and are missing, or been thrown over the bridge, Mr Lewis believes they provide insufficient protection for pedestrians.
“The walkway on the bridge is poorly paved, narrow, missing kerbstones and just downright dangerous,” he said.
“Cyclists feel the bridge is too dangerous and so constantly use the designated pathway, adding an additional hazard to pedestrians.”
Mr Lewis is also concerned over the need for pupils to cross first the busy junction with Telegraph Lane and Blackberry Lane and then the A31 itself on the homebound journey, all of which are “horrendously busy junctions at rush hour” - as is the junction of Boyneswood Road with the A31 which they will have to negotiate to access the bridge.
District councillor Ingrid Thomas is fully behind Mr Lewis’ call for a safety assessment.
Having worked hard to try to mitigate the impact of development site traffic in the Boyneswood Road area, she is fully aware of the dangers faced by pedestrians and is still campaigning for the installation of a separate pedestrian footbridge, it being “the only safe way to get children across the bridge”.
Mrs Thomas believes it is “a disgrace” that schoolchildren are being forced to walk along such an unsafe route, especially with many more set to join them as development continues.
While Hampshire County Council was unable to comment within the time frame, Mr Lewis remains adamant: “I wish for this route to be urgently assessed for its safety and viability for all students to access it.
“Hampshire County Council records should show that there has already been one student hit and knocked down by a car along Boyneswood Road within the last three years. How many more kids need to be hurt before the council re-instates the safe bus stop at the Chawton Park Woods lay-by?”