Three Somerset towns have some of the worst public transport links into the south west – though help could soon be on the way from Somerset County Council.

The Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) has published a report into public transport in rural areas, on behalf of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).

The report identifies Cheddar, Ilminster and Wincanton as “transport deserts” – meaning they are “inappropriately served by transport in a way that is likely to limit choices and opportunities for the people who live there”.

The report comes as Somerset County Council has announced more money for its Slinky bus community transport service, with new vehicles being purchased and new peak time routes being created.

But residents won’t know whether their towns will benefit from the new buses until a full review of the Slinky service is completed later in the year.

The “transport deserts” report argues that small towns across the south west are “a low priority among transport providers and public policy-makers”, with most of them being to small to “control their own transport destiny”.

It argues a lack of adequate public transport can prevent people from accessing opportunities in education and employment, and can leave older residents increasingly isolated as young people move away for work.

Each town in the south west with a population of between 5,000 and 30,000 was scored on three areas: the number of bus services to major settlements (up to four points), the number of rail services (up to three points), and the other forms of transport serving them, such as coaches or taxis (up to two points).

On this system, Ilminster scored the worst out of all towns in Somerset, registering a score of just two on account of its infrequent services to Taunton and no direct bus service to Yeovil.

Wincanton fared little better with a score of three, and Cheddar managed a four – with no other small town surveyed in Somerset scoring lower than six.

The CPRE and CBT has called for a new national strategy on rural transport, including closer integration of bus and rail services, and has called on the local authorities in the area to maintain or increase their transport spending.

Somerset County Council said it was investing £2.5M in public and community transport every year, on top of additional funding announced in its budget on Wednesday (February 19).

A spokesman said: “This report highlights the challenges of providing public transport in rural locations. Ilminster, like many towns in Somerset, does not have a railway station and struggles to attract national investment.

“We try to meet this challenge with innovative solutions such as community and demand-responsive transport, which in many cases can offer a better door-to-door service for elderly and vulnerable passengers.

“We have not made any recent cuts to public transport and continue to invest around £2.5M each year to provide a range of vital transport services across Somerset.

“In Ilminster, provision hasn’t changed since 2017 when we stepped in to protect village services following the collapse of a local operator. The town continues to be connected to Taunton by the 30 service, which runs double-decker buses every 90 minutes.”

The full council voted in Taunton on Wednesday (February 19) to approve its new budget, which includes a commitment of £2M over the next three years to improve bus access in rural areas.

The funding will allow the purchase of three new buses for the council’s Slinky fleet, with nine new peak-time bus services being introduced following a review of the wider Slinky service.

College students studying in Dulverton and elsewhere in West Somerset will also benefit from faster, more direct services to Taunton.

Councillor John Woodman, cabinet member for highways and transport, said: “Rural isolation is a real issue for some of our communities where demand is too low for conventional bus services.

“This funding will directly improve lives for everyone from young people needing to get to college, to employees heading to work or vulnerable older residents who need to access to vital services.”