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15 Aug 17
Coychurch parents school transport victory against Bridgend County Borough Council

Pencoed Comprehensive School pupil, Ben Salkeld of Coychurch, has been successful in winning a school transport case affecting himself and fellow pupils of Pencoed Comprehensive.

Until a recent policy review, Bridgend County Borough Council (BCBC) provided free transport for secondary aged children residing more than two miles from their catchment area school.

Earlier this year, BCBC stated it would cease the regular school bus service between Pencoed Comprehensive and the village of Coychurch from September 2016.

The pathway along the A473 dual carriageway between the two locations had historically been deemed too dangerous for children to walk, hence the ‘free’ transport. But following some remedial work, BCBC deemed the route safe and indicated they would withdraw the school transport.

Parents were unhappy with the changes, and voiced their concerns to the local authority regarding the safety risks of expecting children to walk beside the fast dual carriageway, which has no barrier, to get to school.

Ben’s parents appointed Michael Imperato of Watkins & Gunn Solicitors, a leading public and administrative lawyer, to handle the claim, on behalf of the pupils involved.

Michael Imperato has acted for individuals and campaign groups in a number of high profile judicial review cases against national and local government.

Ben’s claim was successful. BCBC’s decision was challenged on a number of grounds, one being that it had failed to consult with the children affected as it was required to do by law. After considering the challenge, BCBC agreed to quash the decision.

Parent, Lisa Salkeld, said: “Everybody was really concerned because it is the main route linking Bridgend with the M4 motorway. It’s a 50mph speed limit but unfortunately vehicles still exceed it. We used to regularly have the speed camera van in the layby, but it’s been gone since January of this year so vehicles tend to go 70mph down there – it seems that people are not sticking to 50mph.

“I did a Freedom of Information request to see about accidents along there. It gave me statistics for the last three years and there hadn’t been any fatal accidents in the last three years. Schoolchildren have never had to use the path so it’s never been likely for there to have been any fatalities, because people didn’t walk it. If the children, some as young as 11, have to walk it, there could well be.

“Parents made various complaints to the council, but nothing much came of it so that’s when I went to Michael Imperato to see if he could do a claim then for my son, Ben and the other children involved.”

Michael Imperato said: “One of the things the council hadn’t done was consult the learners. The Welsh Government legal guidance said that they should consult the learners. The Welsh Assembly gives a very high priority to the rights of young people; part of that is that their views and thoughts should by a major factor in any decision taken by a Local Authority in this type of case.”

He continued: “From our point of view, it’s a good victory. What it shows is that people can challenge these decisions. It shows that local authorities can get procedure and law wrong, as they did in this case.

“We also acted for Ben with the benefit of Legal Aid. What most people are frightened of is if they go to a lawyer it will cost a fortune but we do a lot of these cases, such as this one, on Legal Aid.”

The council will now have to start the consultation process again, and during this period free transport will continue in accordance with the Council’s Learner Travel policy

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