THE county's new bus plans 'lack ambition' and 'fail to address the transport problems of rural eastern Cumbria' according to a transport group.

The Friends of the Settle-Carlisle Line (FoSCL) is a public transport user group with a membership of 3,000.

Though a rail user group, it has long been involved in promoting the reinstatement of local bus services and have suggested that these should connect with the Settle-Carlisle line wherever possible - to create a rural transport network of which the rail line would be part.

In February this year the government published the ‘Bus Back Better’ initiative, urging all primary local authorities each to submit an ambitious Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) with a deadline of October 2021 to receive a share of £3 billion national funding.

FoSCL declared an expression of interest at an early stage but claimed that the consultants employed by the council failed to make any contact. They added there is no indication of any of the FoSCL recommendations incorporated in the plan and they say they are not included on the list of consultees.

John Carey from the group said: “The Friends believe that the Cumbria BSIP considerably lacks ambition and critically fails to address the transport problems of rural eastern Cumbria.

"In fact, the Settle-Carlisle railway line is not even shown on a map of the county despite being already there and subsidised by the government.

"The council are perhaps understandably cautious as regards reinstating any bus services which they might later have to withdraw when the funding runs out - however this is not what the government intended.

"In contrast, FoSCL feel that it would be far better to reinstate the services and argue for funding later.”

FoSCL raised concerns about so-called 'demand responsive transport' options which rely on good internet connections, and added that 'any transport solution for the area should incorporate full-sized buses operating regular scheduled services with reliability of arrival times and connections.'

A Cumbria County Council spokesperson said: “Cumbria County Council’s Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) outlines various schemes and initiatives to improve the public transport offer in rural areas.

"The BSIP will be reviewed and revised on a regular basis following feedback from the local community. The BSIP will be submitted to the Department for Transport for assessment before the end of this month and following this the Council anticipates being informed of its funding allocation from Government.

"Further detailed consultation will be undertaken with local communities prior delivering any new projects.

“The Council has already secured funding from the Department for Transport to deliver a series of new bus services across Cumbria including several routes in the Eden area.

"In addition during 2022 the Council will be launching a digital demand-responsive transport solution covering the rural areas within a 15 mile radius of Penrith town centre. These proposals will assist communities with little or no existing public transport services.”

Discussing the council's improvement plans, Cllr Keith Little added: “I am pleased that the council’s plan for improving bus services in Cumbria has been endorsed by Cabinet and would like to thank everyone who has been involved.

“I’m grateful to the people that responded to the consultation survey, or who provided their feedback at one of our face-to-face events. It’s really important that the council understands the views and ideas of local bus service users, so that the plan is developed around the things that are most important to passengers.”