Court hears latest appeal against Andy Burnham’s bus reforms in Manchester

The Mayor wants to launch a Bee Network of integrated transport like in London - but faces a legal challenge from a bus operator.

The Court of Appeal has heard the latest legal challenge to Andy Burnham’s plans to bring buses in Greater Manchester under public control by next year.

Diamond Bus owner Rotala has appealed the ruling by a judge earlier this year which gave the Greater Manchester mayor the green light for his reforms.

Under the franchising scheme, which is set to start in Wigan and Bolton next year before serving the whole city-region by the end of 2024, bus operators would bid to run services, giving local leaders control of fares and ticketing.

They would be the first outside London to have this power in more than 30 years – and other regions are looking to follow suit with government support.

The mayor’s plans to bring buses back under public control for first time since 1986 was set in motion five years ago, but faced a legal challenge by bus firms.

Buses in Piccadily in Manchester. Photo: David Dixon

Advertisement

In March, a judge dismissed claims by bus firms Stagecoach and Rotala that Mr Burnham’s decision, and the process followed, were ‘unlawful’ and ‘irrational’.

Since then, the mayor’s office has been pressing ahead with plans to launch the Bee Network – the integrated London-style transport system which Mr Burnham is creating with the government’s backing – by 17 September, 2023.

This includes announcing a new flat fare structure of £2 fares for adults and £1 for children travelling on a single journey and £5 day tickets for all operators.

Mr Burnham has also proposed introducing these cheaper fares by the end of the summer before it is under his control, subject to bus operators’ agreement.

However, Rotala has appealed the judicial review on two ‘very technical’ issues.

Advertisement

What is Rotala’s argument?

The West Midlands-based firm has argued that a statutory audit of the pandemic impact report should have been carried out as part of the process, as it was on another assessment.

The Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) says it did seek a review from the same independent auditors who audited the original assessment and they found that the approach taken was ‘appropriate’ and of ‘sufficient quality’.

But speaking on behalf of Rotala at the Court of Appeal hearing on Tuesday (12 July), Andrew Singer QC said a ‘fresh audit’ should have been carried out in light of the coronavirus crisis and the uncertainty it created in the bus sector.

He said: “If you do not need a re-audit of your assessment in the middle of a pandemic, when do you need one?”

Mr Singer was repeatedly interrupted by the three judges during the hearing.

Advertisement

They asked ‘difficult questions’ throughout the hearing which lasted almost five hours, the majority taken up by Mr Singer making the bus company’s case.

At one point, Lady Justice Andrews suggested that Greater Manchester had gone over and above the audit requirements set out by the relevant legislation.

However, Mr Singer told the judges that there are no cases to compare this to.

Lady Justice Andrews said she hopes the judgement will be handed down by the end of this term, which is Friday, 29 July, but it could take longer than that.

The summer recess lasts until October, but the Local Democracy Reporting Service understands a judgement could be handed down during the break.

Rotala, Transport for Greater Manchester and Andy Burnham’s office have been contacted, but are reserving comment until the judgement is made.