The conversation around school transport in the Laxdale area has reopened, with a consultation apparently being promised for this week.
Stornoway North councillor Gordon Murray, who has campaigned for the Nicolson Institute school run bus to be reinstated, welcomed a pledge from Bernard Chisholm, Director of Education and Children’s Services at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, that a consultation would be carried out.
Councillor Murray said: “This is positive news for those parents in Newvalley, Marybank, Benside and Bakers Road who have battled for the reinstatement of the school bus to the Nicolson.
“I hope that the leader — councillor Roddie MacKay — and the Director of Education will listen to their pleas and reinstate the buses so that children from these areas can travel to school without worrying about the traffic and inclement weather. To hear stories of children turning up to school drenched is not acceptable.”
The school bus was taken away in 2014 as part of a budget cut put forward by former council leader Angus Campbell, and seconded by Stornoway North councillor Roddie Mackay (now council leader himself) in the previous council term.
Councillor Murray stressed the importance of the issue to parents in the Laxdale area — and urged officers and other members to take some action.
He said the problem of withdrawing the school bus had been compounded by the fact that there is no service bus the children are able to get from their homes as it does not run until 9am — too late for the Nicolson, which starts at 8.45am.
He said: “There’s absolutely no option for children in Bakers Road, Newvalley and Marybank to get a service bus. They have to walk down to the bus shelter at Newmarket, at the bottom of Bakers Road, or Craggans Corner.”
It also means the children have to cross the main road to get to the shelters.
“These are really busy areas at school time or in the morning,” said Cllr Murray, “and there’s been concern about children crossing the road.”
He added: “I know the bus shelter isn’t adequate for the numbers so there’s health and safety issues. Children have to walk quite a distance in exposed areas to get buses so we’ve been trying to look for solutions.
“Parents are concerned and have raised it – and when I was going round at election time, that was one of the main issues they were concerned about: school transport to the Nicolson, especially in bad weather, because children are getting drenched.
“It’s almost as if the Nicolson might need a drying area…”
Cllr Murray said there used to be two buses serving these houses but that one bus would probably be enough. He added that the lack of a bus was meaning greater traffic problems at the Nicolson end.
“It creates more traffic getting to the school as parents are taking their kids. So there is traffic congestion. But some kids are walking in bad weather.
“It’s really unfair and I’ve put it down in my own personal manifesto as I really want to improve the school transport for the kids from Laxdale.”
Cllr Murray was pleased to get Mr Chisholm’s commitment to a consultation this week, adding: “He has promised this. I said we needed some sort of solution back in the summer, once I got in, and I want to know what the options are.
“Roddie Mackay was part of the budget process in 2014 and he seconded the proposal to take them away. The SNP group fought it.
“We were promised also by Catriona Stewart (former chair of the Education Committee) that pupils in the Laxdale area would have the same service as every other pupil and that’s not been the case.”
The Gazette approached Roddie Mackay and Bernard Chisholm for comment on Monday, but they have so far been unavailable.