FOREST MP Mark Harper championed county minibus The Robin in Lydney this morning (Friday, October 20) with the service set to expand into the north of the district thanks to new funding.

County councillors hosted a visit from the Secretary of State for Transport at Lydney Dial-A-Ride, in which he spoke to passengers who regularly use the council-run on demand service.

It comes with the council having proposed expanding The Robin to three additional rural areas in Tewkesbury, Stroud and the south Cotswolds, as well as enhancing the offer in the Forest of Dean, where it has been a huge success.

Its expansion will by funded by the £4.4 million allocated to Gloucestershire County Council from the Department for Transport’s  Bus Service Improvement Plan Plus (BSIP+).

Cllr Phillip Robinson (Con, Mitcheldean), who is the cabinet member with responsibility for buses at the council, confirmed the service would be expanded north of the A40 into Newent and the surrounding communities.

Cllr Robinson said of the success of the service: “It certainly plugged a gap in the Forest of Dean when we had Stagecoach cuts last autumn and winter, it became a lifeline to many people. 

“We’re very, very proud of it as the County Council, it’s been likened by some people as a glorified taxi service or glorified dial-a-ride - it’s far more than that.

“People can use their concessionary passes on it, there are loads of young people who use it - we had a little girl, Beth, who’s been with us today - it’s transformed people’s lives.” 

On how the BSIP+ will be used in Gloucestershire, he said: “We’re going to do 21 improved time table services, but quite a lot of it is also going to go into extending The Robin.

“Because it’s been such a success in the Forest of Dean, we’re looking to extend it north of the A40 into the Newent area. We’ll be looking at a third minibus to deliver that.

“It’s been a runaway success in the Forest and when it’s a success, you start to reach capacity. We haven’t reached it yet, but there’s always the danger that when people try to book it, it’s actually not available, so we need to extend it.”

Cllr Alan Preest (Lydney) said the success of The Robin is down to collaboration between the council and local organisations like Lydney Dial-a-Ride through the Forest Community Transport Partnership.

“What’s been achieved by Forest Community Transport in the past year is great, I think its been a catalyst for the county, but I think a lot of the credit has to go to Louise (Currie, Lydney Dial-a-Ride manager) and her team in Lydney, because they’ve got the local knowledge", Cllr Preest said. 

“I speak to Louise most days of the week, we monitor the situation, I feed back to Phil (Cllr Robinson) and senior officers. 

“We’re talking all the time, looking at the usage, the strengths and weaknesses, and that’s the secret of it.

“And thankfully the Government has allocated money for this area where rural transport traditionally hasn’t been funded in quite the way it should’ve been”.

Mark Harper commented: “The best way of judging these things is what to the regular users think - we have five here today and they all spoke incredibly highly of it. 

“They use it for different reasons for getting to work, to run a business, one of them takes their daughter to school, one just uses a lot for getting out and about, seeing the area, seeing their friends. 

“It’s easy to book, easy to use, cost effective and delivers a bus service where they wouldn’t otherwise.” 

On Department for Transport investment in the service, he said: “This was delivered before I was Secretary of State, but it’s really good for us to learn how these things work. 

“The proof of the pudding is the fact that this has been so successful that the County Council is taking the money it gets to support bus services from my department and it’s already decided - this only having been running a year - that it’s going to use its own money to support this expanding in the north of the constituency in the Newent area, but also to roll out elsewhere in the county, in rural areas where people need those bus services.

"So actually I think it’s already proved itself.”

The BSIP+ funding also means some services which were withdrawn last year by Stagecoach can be reinstated, if operators come forward to run the routes. 

The plan is aimed at boosting the numbers of people travelling by bus nationally, which have fallen since the Covid pandemic.