Calls for Boris Johnson to extend London-style bus network to Northumberland

The North of Tyne Mayor will be urging Boris Johnson to give the region the power to take control of its buses.

By Daniel Holland
Tuesday, 6th August 2019, 11:45 am
Updated Tuesday, 6th August 2019, 12:45 pm
A bus in rural Northumberland.
A bus in rural Northumberland.

Jamie Driscoll says he will be taking up the new Prime Minister’s offer to extend a London-style bus network to “any other part of the country where local leaders want to do it”.

The Labour mayor told a North of Tyne Combined Authority meeting on Tuesday afternoon that it would be “fantastic” for the North East if the government delivered on Mr Johnson’s devolution promises.

Mr Driscoll added that giving local leaders the ability to reduce bus fare prices and protect less profitable services from cancellation was already under discussion before the Prime Minister’s pledge.

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He also suggested that having publicly-owned bus services could have helped solve Tyneside’s air pollution crisis if it had been done before now.

The mayor said: “The state of our buses here is a serious issue. It takes three and a quarter hours to get from Seahouses to Newcastle by bus – if that is the nearest college where you can study your subject or you are visiting a family member in hospital, it is impossible without a car.”

In 2015, plans to give Metro operator Nexus legal powers over bus services in Tyne and Wear were rejected. A panel set up to consider the ‘Quality Contract Scheme’ found it would not represent value for money, could not demonstrate it would increase bus use, and would have a disproportionate adverse effect on bus companies.

But Mr Driscoll said he is “firmly convinced that it is worthwhile”, joining calls from Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes in June to revive the bid to return control over buses to local authorities rather than private companies.

The mayor said: “It [the 2015 bid] was lost on a specific legal point and the powers that be didn’t allow us to do it. There were five tests and the case was not proven on the final economic test.

“It was the bus companies who opposed it. But I think it was the right thing to do then and it is the right thing to do now.

“And I think that if we had done it then we would not be facing the clean air tolls that we are now.”

During a speech in Manchester last week, Mr Johnson said he wanted “higher frequency, low-emission or zero-emission buses, more bus priority corridors, a network that’s easier to understand and use”.

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham is pushing ahead with plans to bring bus services there under public control.

The Prime Minister added: “I want local partnerships between the private sector, which operates the buses, and a public body, which coordinates them.

“In London – where they have all these things – bus passenger journeys have risen by 97 per cent in 25 years.

“In other metropolitan areas – where they do not – it has fallen by 34 per cent over the same period.

“I think we can see the first results, here in Greater Manchester, within a few months.

“And I want the same for any other part of the country where local leaders want to do it.”