The court has found in favour of the Greater Manchester's bus franchising plans

A judge has ruled in favour of Mayor Andy Burnham’s plan for major reform of the buses in Greater Manchester following a judicial review brought by bus operators Rotala and Stagecoach.

Stagecoach submitted the court application for a Judicial Review of Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s (GMCA) second consultation on bus franchising in the region. It said that the move, which was made in February 2021, had come because of a “failure to meet the required standards on proper process, evidence and analysis required by law,” and accused GMCA of conducting “an unlawful process.”

Public transport is essential for any successful city-region, and our buses are the backbone of Greater Manchester’s transport network

The GMCA launched its initial consultation in 2019 but decided to carry out a second consultation. The second consultation saw a slight decrease in positive responses. More than 12,500 responses were received over two periods of consultation on GMCA’s proposals to change how buses are run. Of those who answered the question ‘To what extent do you support or oppose the introduction of the proposed franchising scheme’ or submitted a response via an organised campaign, 86% of responses to the first consultation period supported the franchising scheme. This was 82% for the second consultation period.

Andy Burnham then decided to exercise his powers to bring buses under franchise in March 2021. At the time Mr Burnham said: “Public transport is essential for any successful city-region, and our buses are the backbone of Greater Manchester’s transport network. As Greater Manchester recovers from the pandemic and grows in the future, we must develop our public transport network, alongside walking and cycling, to support the increasing number of journeys we will all be making.

"It will mean simpler fares and ticketing. You will be able to use your tickets on all Greater Manchester buses and hop on and hop off. You will know how much your tickets will cost."

Franchising means the deregulated bus market is suspended and bus companies are only able to provide services under contract to TfGM. The Bus Services Act 2017 allowed metro mayors in areas outside of London to create their own franchises for the first time. It is estimated that TfGM spent £20 million and two years coming up with the business case for franchising, in compliance with the Act’s requirements.

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Burnham's bus reform has been given the go ahead Image: Confidentials

What does Andy Burnham say about the judgment?

Andy Burnham said in statement: "This is truly fantastic news for everyone outside London who wishes to see a return to a bus service that puts people ahead of profit. We were always confident that GMCA had followed all correct legal processes and that the decision to franchise buses and bring them under public control was lawful and right. We’re delighted that this strong legal decision, where we won on every point, validates and endorses everything we have done to date.

"Following the strong mandate from the Greater Manchester public, who wanted buses bringing back under public control, it is frustrating that the two companies concerned pursued this action and I am pleased that the court has dismissed all of their arguments.

"I now ask them to accept the clear ruling and allow us to crack on and give the people of Greater Manchester what they want – an integrated, accessible and affordable ‘London-style’ transport system joining together buses, trams, cycling and walking; the Bee Network.

"I want to work with the operators and the government to create the bus network that GM needs over the next few years and I will give a more detailed update on how and when we will implement franchising on Monday."

The New Manchester Bee Network Travel Options Which Were Paraded Outside Of The Tory Conference In Manchester
The Manchester Bee Network travel options as seen at St Peter's Square Image: Confidentials

How have Stagecoach responded?

A Stagecoach spokesperson said: “We are disappointed at the decision of the Court. This case was never about the principle of mayoral combined authorities being able to decide to introduce bus franchising. We absolutely respect that democratic right. However, the Bus Services Act 2017 makes very clear that authorities must meet specified standards on proper evidence and analysis in pursuing this process.

“It was our view that the process followed by Greater Manchester Combined Authority in assessing the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on its bus franchising plans did not meet those legal requirements.

“Nevertheless, we accept the decision of the Court. We will work constructively with GMCA to help deliver the Mayor's ambitions for the region's bus network, as well as the Government's wider objectives in the National Bus Strategy, and look forward to the Mayor securing the significant taxpayer support required to deliver the franchising system.

Stagecoach has today (March 9) agreed to be taken over by a German investment fund in a £595m deal. Previously it was expected to merge with National Express.

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Campaigners welcome the ruling Image: Better Buses for GM

The move to change the rules regarding buses was welcomed by Better Buses for GM, a campaign group which has long sought to improve buses in Greater Manchester.

Matthew, a Better Buses Campaigner at We Own It, said: “Today’s ruling is a massive victory and could be life-changing for many communities across the country, not just in Greater Manchester.

“For the first time in over 35-years, a bus network outside London will be integrated and planned for the benefit of local people, not distant shareholders. 

“That means simple tickets you can trust to give you value for money. It means more routes to help end social isolation and boost local businesses. And it means powers to make buses more reliable, helping to end those frightening night time waits at dark bus stops. 

“With Manchester setting the pace, now is the time for the leaders of other regions to put their foot on the accelerator and drive forward better buses too.”

Read now: Burnham takes back control of Manchester buses

Read again: Will franchising really sort out Manchester's bus problem?

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