In this guest blog, Derrick Coffee from the East Sussex Campaign for Better Transport local branch explains the value and importance of a daily rural bus service.
In spring 2017, after a four year absence and bucking a national trend, a Sunday bus service was restored linking rural communities and major towns in East Sussex and West Kent to their mutual benefit, On the very first day, the Sunday bus service between Hastings and Cranbrook, connecting there with the Arriva 5 to Maidstone, helped to get two chefs to their Sunday jobs. Food for thought!
The good news is that following a successful trial period, the service is set to continue through winter 2018 and summer 2019 with five return services a day.
Key to the start-up was recognition that growing annual visitor numbers at Bodiam Castle (200,000) and on Kent and East Sussex Railway (100,000) offered an opportunity to reintroduce a viable service. These attractions are mainly reliant on cars, putting pressure on local lanes and land for parking, with Sunday being the busiest day. Now there’s a daily public transport option again, with rail connections at Hastings (for Stagecoach bus 349) and Staplehurst (for Arriva bus 5). This means that these attractions are now accessible from London, Brighton and Eastbourne. With many people not having access to a car, certainly in London and Brighton, these attractions now have a much bigger potential audience.
Voluntary groups, organisations, parishes in East Sussex and Kent, the National Trust, 1066 Marketing and individuals got together to raise sufficient funds to support summer Sunday and school holiday services. At this point, East Sussex and Kent County Councils began conversations with Stagecoach and Arriva. This resulted in the recognition of the potential value of the restored ‘cross border’ link and led to limited but crucial support, including publicity. At a critical point in the process the enthusiasm of the Hawkhurst Transport Access Group helped see the project through.
With good will and trust, it turned out to be a highly pro-active partnership with all partners helping to distribute timetables and spread the word to businesses and the public.
As well as serving attractive and growing village communities of Hawkhurst and Cranbrook, the Stagecoach bus 349 and Arriva 5 also make possible Sunday days out in the country to Sedlescombe organic vineyard, Sandhurst church and Hawkhurst Victorian walled nursery. For villagers the riverside town of Maidstone, and Hastings seaside and medieval Old Town have their unique leisure, arts and shopping attractions. For walkers, the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty offers a network of footpaths across special landscapes of ridges and valleys, with a reward of good pub lunches in picturesque villages.
An email from a young family with a new baby is telling; having just moved back to Staplecross after some years in Hastings, they report their relief at having a daily service linking them to the larger surrounding towns. How many other rural communities can say that nowadays?
Derrick Coffee, County Officer, East Sussex Campaign for Better Transport