CALNE, Malmesbury and Marlborough are becoming ‘transport deserts.’

The claim is made by countryside charity CPRE, and is based on research of transport links in small towns across the South West.

The study looks at service provision in towns with populations of between 5,000 and 30,000.

They say Calne, Malmesbury and Marlborough fall into the ‘transport desert’ category because of no train links and limited peak and off peak services.

The research defines a transport desert as a town which is inappropriately served by transport in a way that is likely to limit choices and opportunities for the people who live there.

The research is published as Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Parliament that £5 billion of new funding was being earmarked to overhaul bus and cycle links for every region outside London.

Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity, said: “If properly targeted, this investment could help tackle loneliness and isolation, reduce car dependency and slash our carbon emissions while encouraging more people to live, work and visit a more sustainable countryside.”

They say small towns and villages must see a fair share of funding through a dedicated rural transport fund.

The government announcement comes on the heels of a bus service linking Melksham with Bath being axed by the firm that runs it. First West of England is pulling the plug on the D3 on April 4. It says the service has failed to cover its own costs for some time and, despite a significant increase in usage in the past two years, it is still loss-making.

Wiltshire’s buses are run by different operators which bid to run theroutes which financially supported by the council.

Bridget Wayman, cabinet member for Transport said: “We currently spend £5m a year subsidising rural transport. The Department for Transport funding announcement is great news and we’re really excited about the opportunity to bid for it. Supporting our public transport infrastructure is key to Wiltshire, supporting both our communities to live healthy lives and for us to achieve our ambitions for carbon reduction. At this stage we are considering all options available. We will of course update residents as soon as we have more information.”

Other routes are ones the operators deem to be commercially viable, and are funded entirely from fares.

Faresavers operates in the Chippenham, Calne, Trowbridge and Devizes areas. Boss Daniel Pickford is cautiously welcoming the prospect of more funding.

“It will be interesting to see what monies are allocated to Wiltshire,” he said. “We are always interested to know what new routes we could run. We need the investment as many rural routes are simply not commercially viable for us to run.”

There are also 45 rural ‘link’ buses in the county, supported by council and lottery funding, and around 35 voluntary groups which provide support to local communities, such as shopping trips for the elderly.

The Government funding detail will be announced in the upcoming National Bus Strategy, to be published later this year at the Comprehensive Spending Review.