Disappointment as court rules in favour of franchising
Stagecoach and Rotala have expressed disappointment over the High Court’s decision today (9 March 2022) that allows bus franchising in Greater Manchester to move ahead.
A judicial review brought forward by the operators in connection with Manchester’s bus franchising plans has ruled against their claims.
The two operators secured a judicial review of the decision on Manchester’s buses entering a franchising scheme in spring last year, based on claims the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) failed to meet the correct requirements concerning a consultation on franchising.
GMCA undertook a public consultation in December 2020 and January 2021 after re-evaluating its previously announced franchising plans in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. In March 2021, after GMCA recommended by a majority that the scheme should proceed, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, approved the proposal.
Stagecoach believed that GMCA’s process failed to meet the standards on proper evidence and analysis required by law.
The operators’ claims have today been dismissed in Court by Mr Justice Julian Knowles.
The outcome of the judicial review means the Mayor of Manchester will be able to proceed with plans for implementing bus franchising in the city.
Rotala plans to appeal the Court’s decision.
“It was our view that the process followed by Greater Manchester Combined Authority (“GMCA”) in assessing the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on its bus franchising plans did not meet those legal requirements” – Stagecoach
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 (“GMCA”) 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.
“Across the country, we are ready to help transport authorities deliver better buses in their regions, including through Enhanced Partnerships, which can deliver fast, practical improvements for local communities.
“There is a huge opportunity for buses to help drive a better, fairer and greener future for Greater Manchester. Our priority has always been to support that objective by delivering the best and most sustainable bus network for the region in the quickest and most effective way possible.
“We have been in regular and constructive contact with GMCA to offer our ideas on how to improve the bus network. Looking ahead, we will continue to work in partnership with the Mayor and the Combined Authority to recover from the pandemic and ensure the region has a sustainable, high quality bus network for the long term.”
“The Board still believes these decisions to be irrational and/or unlawful and is in the process of applying for permission to appeal the decision to the Court of Appeal” – Rotala
A statement from Rotala said: “Throughout the Company’s court claim, the Board has remained confident that both these decisions were irrational and/or unlawful. Therefore, although of course fully respecting the court’s decision, nevertheless it is extremely disappointing to announce that Mr Justice Julian Knowles has dismissed the claim. The Board still believes these decisions to be irrational and/or unlawful and is in the process of applying for permission to appeal the decision to the Court of Appeal.
“As an operator in Greater Manchester, the Company has acted to attempt to protect its business from a decision that is not only detrimental to Rotala’s future prospects, but also potentially detrimental to the citizens of Greater Manchester in imposing upon them the financial burden of a franchising scheme that the Board believes has not been properly assessed in line with the relevant legislation.”
- The decision on Manchester’s bus franchising follows an announcement earlier this month regarding franchising in Liverpool.