CONCERNS over the future of Somerset's areas of outstanding natural beauty, bus ticket hikes, flooding and children's centres were discussed this week.

A committee of Somerset County Council councillors scrutinised £18million savings proposals which could see them reduce their funding to areas including the Blackdown Hills and Quantocks from £45,000 to £5,000.

Speaking at this morning's meeting at County Hall, Alan Hughes, chairman of the Friends of Quantock, said: “The Quantock Hills is one of the jewels in Somerset's landscape for attract business, value for educational visits and overall well being and health to our community.”

David Lloyd, a trustee of the Somerset branch to protect rural England, added: “They need funding from the council to attract additional funding from national government so these cuts would make four times the impact.”

Cllr David Hall stressed any cuts would be for future years but did say that 'savings had to be made'.

Councillors also considered plans to increase bus ticket prices by 15%, which are as a result of rising costs from bus operators.

But Cllr Leigh Redman and Leader of the Opposition Cllr Sam Crabb said the increase was 'far too much' to isolated families struggling to make ends meet.

Cllr Redman said: “Bus operators have increased their costs by 6%, not 15% increase, and we should sit down and talk with them about it.”

The council also said they are preparing an application for emergency severe weather funding from the Government's Belwin Scheme to help fix some of the county's roads destroyed by flooding.

But they said they need to wait for the waters to recede before assessing what damage has been caused.

The future of children's centres was briefly mentioned ahead of Friday's (January 31) in-depth meeting.

Deputy chief executive Patrick Flaherty said consultations were ongoing and he 'would be surprised' if any decisions were made before the end of June.

He added: “We have to keep it [a decision deadline] fuzzy and I can't put a stake and draw a line in the sand because it could curtail useful consultations.”

The council's budget will be decided at a Full Council meeting on 19 February.