Greater Manchester bus franchising legal hurdle cleared as Rotala challenge in courts fails

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has called the judgement “great news for the people of Manchester”.

A legal attempt to challenge Greater Manchester’s plans for bus franchising has failed after the Court of Appeal issued a judgement upholding the flagship transport scheme.

Bus operators went to court in order to examine whether or not the decision by Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham to implement a franchising system was unlawful.

On Monday (25 July) the Court of Appeal upheld a ruling made in the High Court in March saying that the authorities in the city-region had acted lawfully.

Mr Burnham has hailed the legal decision, which removes a major hurdle to bringing in a system where operators have to bid to run services under public control, as “great news for the people of Manchester”, a view which has been echoed by transport campaigners.

In a statement to the London Stock Exchange Rotala said it had exhausted legal avenues open to it.

What happened in the courts?

The High Court in March ruled that Greater Manchester’s leaders had acted lawfully in their decision to move to bus franchising in the city-region and in the process by which this was carried out. This was in response to a judicial review case brought by a couple of bus companies.

However, Rotala, which owns Diamond, decided to appeal that.

Now, though, the Court of Appeal has unanimously rejected the appeal and upheld the original court decision.

Mr Burnham called the ruling “a green light” for speeding ahead with bus franchising across the city-region and said he had been in little doubt that Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) had acted correctly.

And he said Greater Manchester has already been moving to reform public transport, with bus fares capped at £2 per journey for adults and £1 for children as well as a maximum cost of £5 for a day ticket coming in from 1 September.

In addition Mr Burnham said the city-region was investing in 220 zero-emission buses. It is intended that 50 of those will be brought into service as part of the first phase of franchising in Wigan, Bolton and parts of Salford from September 2023, with more greener vehicles then being introduced in Bury, Rochdale and parts of north Manchester in spring 2024 and finally in Stockport, Trafford, Tameside and south Manchester by the end of 2024.

What has Mr Burnham said about the Court of Appeal’s decision?

Mr Burnham said: “This is brilliant news for the people of Greater Manchester – and for anyone across the UK who cares about having a bus service that puts people ahead of shareholder profit.

“We were always very 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 we have comprehensively defeated the last legal challenge in the way of bringing buses under public control. The Court of Appeal’s judgment upholds the original decision of the High Court and unanimously rejects this appeal as without any merit.

“Throughout two separate consultations, the Greater Manchester public told us that they wanted buses bringing under public control and run for the benefit of the people; and it’s frustrating that this legal action has been pursued to prevent this going ahead. So I’m delighted that the court has dismissed all the operator’s arguments and has awarded all costs in our favour.

“This clear and unanimous judgment is another green light which means that we can now power ahead at full speed to deliver bus franchising across Greater Manchester as part of our Bee Network: an integrated, accessible and affordable ‘London-style’ transport system joining together buses, trams, cycling and walking.

“And I hope that the unanimous rejection of this appeal paves the way for other city regions such as Liverpool City Region and South Yorkshire to progress with their ambitions to bring buses under public control.”

What have transport campaigners said?

We Own It, which calls for services to be brought back under public control and for privatisation to be reversed, has also hailed the Court of Appeal’s decision.

Matthew Topham, 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 30 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.”

What has Rotala said?

Rotala released a statement to the London Stock Exchange after the judgement was published, which largely set out the potential financial implications of the move by Greater Manchester on the company.

However, it also briefly set out that it would be taking no further legal action.

In the statement the company said: “The company has considered the Court of Appeal’s judgment in its claim against GMCA and the Mayor and, whilst disappointed with the result, it respects the decision of the court and has resolved to take no further steps in this legal process.”