Greater Manchester bus reform: judge rules in favour of mayor Andy Burnham’s scheme for franchising

The outcome of the judicial review marks a major step forward for the authorities’ plans for radical public transport reform in the city-region.

The courts have found in favour of Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and the city-region’s authorities over its radical plans for reforming public transport by bringing in bus franchising.

Last year Mr Burnham made a decision to bring buses back under public control across Greater Manchester.

However, two bus companies decided to launch a judicial review to challenge the move.

Now, though, the courts have found that the decision, together with the other aspects of the franchising process, were lawfully carried out.

The result has been greeted with delight by politicians and by campaigners who had been calling for change in how buses are operated.

What has been said following the courts’ decision?

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The outcome of the judicial review backing the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) has been hailed as a major step forward for plans to transform the public transport network across Greater Manchester.

It has also been suggested the ruling will provide a boost to other areas of the country looking at introducing London-style bus systems.

Mr Burnham said: “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.

Buses on Oxford Road in Manchester Credit: TFGM

“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.

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“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.”

What will happen next?

Mr Burnham says he now wants to work with the operators and the government to create the new, franchised bus network across Greater Manchester over the next few years .

He said there will be a more detailed update on how and when this will be implemented on Monday.

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Mr Burnham said the next big question for public transport in the city-region is how to get the right level of funding for the buses and Metrolink tram system.

This, Mr Burnham said, is imperative if a system is going to be created which encourages people to leave their cars at home and switch to greener and more sustainable forms of getting around.

The Greater Manchester mayor called on the Government to back the bus franchising reforms fully, saying the city-region and the national Government have some similar aims and ideas in this area.

Mr Burnham said: “Access to reliable, affordable public transport is central to the Government’s commitment to levelling up and to our net zero ambitions.

“We want Government to join us in a partnership that uses Greater Manchester as a pilot to allow it to become the first London-style public transport system outside of London, as the Government promised in its Levelling Up White Paper, providing a package of both post-Covid and longer-term funding.”

Mr Burnham said he hoped the ruling on Greater Manchester’s bus franchising will provide a boost to the Liverpool City Region and South Yorkshire, which have both announced steps towards introducing a franchised bus network.

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“This ruling is a green light for the North to retake control of its bus and public transport system,” Mr Burnham said.

What have transport campaigners said about the court result?

The courts’ findings on the Greater Manchester scheme have also been greeted with joy by transport campaigners who were behind the initial calls for major reform of the city-region’s public transport systems.

Matthew Topham, 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 3 years, a bus network outside London will be integrated and planned for the benefit of local people, not distant shareholders.

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“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.”