There have been six collisions involving children in the past five years on a route that a local council has deemed “acceptable” for young people to walk to school, The Herald can reveal.

North Lanarkshire recently decided to stop offering bus transport to students from Millerston and Stepps to Chryston High School beginning in August, citing an assessment which found the walking route acceptable. 

Now, The Herald can reveal the council’s route assessment details obtained via Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, including reports of casualties involving young people and an assessment which found the route "acceptable" months before parents were told otherwise.

Despite writing to Millerston and Stepps parents in February 2024 and assuring them that they would remain entitled to school transport because a historical assessment found that the route was “unacceptable,” the council had already begun a new assessment in December 2023 which classed the route as acceptable.

Parents said that they were not aware that this new assessment was taking place until they received another letter in April telling them that transport would end in August.

They say the walk along the dual carriageway is unsafe for children, is not well-maintained, and will leave some facing an hour-long walk to school.

North Lanarkshire Council maintains that the route is acceptable and, at Thursday’s full council meeting, voted down a motion to use some of its £8 million surplus to support bus transportation from the area.

Six children involved in collisions along school route

The assessment included a study of collisions along the route between 2019 and 2024. According to the information from the council, there were seven collisions along the route during this time involving pedestrians aged 5, 8, 11, 12, 13, and 40. 

Records show that incidents involving young people occurred during the week between 3:15 p.m. and 7 p.m. Two were “serious,” and the others were “slight.”

The incident involving the 40-year occurred on a Sunday after 8 pm.

(Image: North Lanarkshire Council)

Officers who completed the assessment noted that all collisions were acceptable, claiming that they did not involve a school-aged child and/or occurred outside school travel times. 

“Additionally, acceptability has been determined due to proximity of pedestrian crossing facilities.”

When asked to respond to this classification, a North Lanarkshire Council spokesperson said: “The recorded collisions were determined to be acceptable due to the proximity of pedestrian crossing facilities.”

Parents ‘not routinely informed’

The council’s decision-making surrounding the changes to its school transportation policy has been questioned since the decisions were first announced. 

In keeping with government guidance, the council announced its decision to guarantee transport for students who live more than three miles from a secondary school beginning in August 2024 or primary students more than two miles from school beginning in August 2025.

Students and parents held a rally to protest the school bus budget cuts.Students and parents held a rally to protest the school bus budget cuts. (Image: Lesley Giudici)

North Lanarkshire was previously one of many councils that continued to offer transportation according to an older set of guidance, which included a much wider range of students living two or more miles from secondary and one mile from primary school. The change came from the council’s attempts to cut into an expected budget gap. 

Parents across North Lanarkshire have spoken out against the decision, and many staged a protest in front of the council offices ahead of their full council meeting last week.

Read more: ‘What do they think this will do to attendance?’ Parents fight for bus route

Changes to the Millerston and Stepps route caused particular concern with parents because the council initially promised that their service would not be impacted by the change in council policy, according to a letter written to parents in the area on February 16, 2024.

“From August 2024, the council will only provide transport for secondary pupils who live more than three miles from their catchment school by the nearest acceptable walking route," the letter informed parents.

“We have used GIS technology to measure walking distances and completed a programme of acceptable walking route assessments around our secondary schools.

“Following the conclusion of this exercise, your child remains eligible for school transport from August 2024.”

However, information obtained under the FOI request shows that the council had already begun reassessing the route between Chryston and Millerston/Stepps in December 2023. 

When asked why parents were told that the council was conducting work to reclassify their route to school, a council spokesperson said that the new assessment was “part of the wider review programme” and that parents “are not routinely informed of walking route assessments as these are an operational process.”

Student safety being used as ‘political football’

During a full North Lanarkshire Council meeting last Thursday, SNP Councillor Tracy Carragher submitted a motion asking the council to approve using £2.088 million of an £8 million surplus to fund transportation fully for another year.

She said this would give time to assess the routes to every school more fully and engage with parents. 

“It is for the elected members of this local authority to determine its school transport provision.

“No decision should have been taken that would have a direct impact on the safety of our young people. Let alone a decision that would impact their education

“Please don’t make this a political football. The safety of our young people is far too important.”

After a lengthy debate, the motion was voted down by a narrow margin in favour of Scottish Labour councillor and council leader Jim Logue’s amendment, which called the cuts to transportation “unavoidable” and instead said that any surplus should be used to close future budget gaps.

Lorraine Kerr, chair of the Stepps Primary Parent Council, one of Chryston High's feeder schools, said that the decision to vote against the motion has left parents feeling that their voices do not matter in decisions that impact their children.

"As a parent group, we are extremely disappointed and disillusioned that the majority of councillors, elected to represent their constituents' views, have failed to do so.

"Our strong voices have been ignored, highlighting the clear and worrying disconnect between constituents and our elected officials. 

"This is clearly party politics at play, with no priority given to the safety of our children."