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Placard-wielding campaigners marched on county hall in Winchester on Thursday (February 19) to protest against drastic cuts to bus services in Fleet and Church Crookham.

Nine members of the Don’t Cut Buses Campaign group helped hand over a petition with more than 2,000 signatures demanding Hampshire County Council and Stagecoach reinstate buses in the area.

Joined by members of the national Campaign for Better Transport, campaigners demonstrated outside the council offices at 9.30am before handing in the petition and speaking to the full council at its annual budget meeting.

Their efforts were in vain, however, as a motion to provide emergency funding to retain some of the most needed bus routes was thrown out.

Bus users were stunned when operator Stagecoach withdrew its number 30, 31 and 77 routes in January as well as part of the 72 service, meaning there is now no service between Fleet and Aldershot.

The cuts have left just one bus an hour to Farnborough and no direct buses to Frimley Park Hospital or the Aldershot Centre for Health.

Many former bus users now face long walks to and from work and other commitments in the dark.

On the morning protest, Don’t Cut Buses Campaign leader Sarah Horton said: "It was noisy and certainly made an impact in terms of people actually noticing us.

"We stood at the entrance to county hall so the councillors had to directly walk past us. They couldn't ignore us."

'Social necessity'

Mrs Horton made an impassioned pea to councillors before handing over the petition.

"We no longer have a direct bus to Aldershot – one of our nearest towns - and there is no longer a direct bus to Frimley Park Hospital," she said.

"There are several areas in Fleet and Church Crookham left with no bus service at all, including Elvetham Heath, Pondtail, Zebon Copse and Quetta Park.

"Instead, they now have an inadequate and poorly promoted taxishare service."

Mrs Horton told councillors the bus routes are a 'social necessity'.

"By removing the subsidies, people are genuinely struggling to get to the hospital, to college and to work," she added.

"Hampshire County Council do have a responsibility to step in where public transport is necessary and commercial providers cannot make it work without basic support.

"I would also like to warn members that when considering future cuts across the county that the implications of these cuts may be deeper and have a greater impact on all residents than you might think."

However, a Liberal Democrat budget amendment to include £1 million to support essential bus services across the county was defeated.

Before the meeting, Sean Woodward, Hampshire’s executive member for transport, said the ‘difficult decisions’ to change services followed a ‘significant’ reduction in government funding, which has halved over five years.

He said the council undertook a ‘wide-ranging’ consultation, which produced responses from more than 3,000 individuals and almost 200 organisations.