Community Transport scheme update

The parish council (PC) is very aware that residents in most of our semi-rural parish face the issue of poor public transport links to access facilities and onward connections, to Storrington as the local ‘hub’ village, and in other directions. This forces over-reliance on private cars, which is expensive and environmentally unsustainable. Despite repeated representations to West Sussex County Council (WSCC) the already limited scheduled bus services through Thakeham have been cut twice over the past three years, and are now at such a minimal level that they meet the needs of very few residents. At the same time, central Thakeham is absorbing up to 200 houses at the Abingworth Meadows development, and a key ‘sustainability’ assumption when this development was given consent was the existence of reasonable bus connections.

In response, the PC is seeking to create a new local Community Transport (CT) scheme. Work on this has been in train for several years, but progress has been slow because the level of funding required to set up a scheme that offers a genuinely useful service into the future is around £100k – well beyond the Parish Council’s normal financial resources – so we need to look to external finance. Our aim is to help create a self-sustaining, community-led CT scheme which runs for the benefit of the whole community, supports residents to reduce reliance on private cars, helps address local air quality issues, and meets the needs of those who have difficulty accessing public transport and who are at risk of becoming socially isolated.

Towards those aims, we have already got provisional agreement with the Abingworth developer to consolidate a number of travel and emissions-related commitments that were attached to phase 1 of the development into a fund of £60K for a CT scheme. We have also established a close working relationship with Community Transport Sussex, and with their input have drafted an outline CT scheme for Thakeham, based on successful models elsewhere in the area. The sum currently available to set this up is still short of what is need, but, in responding to the Abingworth developer’s latest proposals for a further uplift of 50 houses in phase 3, the Parish Council has made a strong case that, if Horsham District Council were to decide to approve that level of housing increase (against community objections), that must be linked a further uplift of funds for the CT scheme to the required level, including provision for electric-charged minibuses.

In November 2019, to demonstrate the demand for CT provision, and help ensure that the details of our scheme are geared to actual needs, we conducted a survey of residents. A summary of responses received can be viewed here. Our take is that the survey has confirmed a viable level of demand for a CT scheme, and the likelihood that sufficient volunteers will be available to help run it.

The situation as at January 2020 is that we await decisions relating to Abingworth Phase 3, to clarify the funding situation. Meanwhile, to allow for the possibility that HDC will refuse the proposed 50-house uplift (which means no extra funding) we are continuing to review options for alternative sources of finance, and options to re-scale the scheme to reduce costs. We will keep the community posted on further developments.