A BUS operator is to reduce its summer network to Poole town centre in response to an “accelerating decline” in visitors despite the council's ongoing 'Big Plan' initiative.

Morebus has announced its new summer timetable, which it says reflects changes in demand for bus services in Dorset, following the Covid-19 pandemic.

Most notable are changes to the network in and around Poole town centre, which will be cut in order to “continue to offer value-for-money” after the operator found travel habits had dwindled both before and after the pandemic.

Announcing network changes, which come into effect on May 28, Morebus said: “Sadly, the pandemic has accelerated the decline of Poole town centre as a destination for people, with a significant number of our customers travelling less to go shopping or working in retail.

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“Prior to the pandemic, fewer people were using our network of routes within Poole due to changing travel habits. Like all businesses we need to act to match supply with the new levels of passenger demand whilst continuing to offer our high levels of service to ensure we can continue to offer value-for-money.”

Morebus managing director Andrew Wickham added that the intention is to also “monitor growth, with a view to returning to a more frequent service as we emerge from the pandemic and passenger numbers grow”.

The situation will be kept under review and Morebus said it held discussions with BCP Council ahead of the changes.

This comes amid the ongoing £1.25 million Heritage Action Zone programme in Poole town centre, in which the council aim to “transform” high street offerings and increase footfall.

Head of communications for Morebus and Poole BID member Nikki Honer said: “Our aim is to ensure any reductions in service have minimal impact on our customers, and we have looked carefully at demand before making these changes.”

A BCP Council spokesperson said: “All of our core town centres are going through a huge period of change. We’ve have seen proof of this recently with such examples in Poole as the former Marks and Spencer’s site now being reimagined as a family focussed indoor adventure attraction.

“We have put the reinvigoration of Poole as a centrepiece of our Big Plan, and are drawing up major regeneration plans across the town.

“The big fix for increased visitors to Poole is this high street renewal and regeneration, and in the meantime we continue to work closely with our bus operators as their routes ebb and flow to accommodate the changing usage as our towns evolve.”