CAMPAIGNERS are today celebrating a major breakthrough in the battle to save a vital transport link.

Xelabus has revealed plans to replace the newly-axed First Bus Number 10 service, the only direct bus route from Totton to Shirley and Southampton General Hospital.

Its withdrawal has angered Totton residents who need to visit the General to keep outpatient appointments or visit relatives.

As reported in the Daily Echo, Southampton City Council has helped out by funding a new £86,000 service linking the city centre and the hospital at peak times. But the Totton residents visiting the General are having to change buses in the middle of Southampton to reach the wards.

Now Xelabus has unveiled plans to launch its own version of the Number 10 service next month and is seeking a subsidy from the town council.

The Eastleigh-based company was formed three years ago and has a fleet of 26 vehicles.

Managing director Phil Blair told the Daily Echo: “We’re planning a replacement Number 10 service that will operate off-peak.

“We haven’t finalised our plans and are talking to various parties to see what support they could provide.”

Referring to various bus cuts in the Southampton area in recent months Mr Blair added: “Certain communities are being dropped by the multi-nationals.

As a small family operator we feel very strongly that we should step in.”

The proposed new Xelabus service was welcomed at a meeting of the town council’s planning and transport committee.

Cllr Chris Lagdon said: “They’ve come up with some figures they’d love us to contribute to and would like to meet the town clerk as soon as possible.

“The service will start again on February 24, provided we can find some sort of subsidy.

“At the moment we haven’t got a bus service from the main town in the New Forest to the General. It’s an absolute travesty.”

Cllr Neville Penman added: “It would be an absolute disaster if we let this service go.

“It’s Totton’s only direct bus link to the hospital. People are currently having to take two buses to get there.”

Members agreed that the town clerk, Derek Biggs, should hold talks with Xelabus.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Biggs said: “We’ll have to see what sort of support they’re looking for and what might be possible.”

The council already subsidises two other bus services in the town, T1 and T2.

First Bus says it axed the Number 10 service because it was no longer financially viable.