First to close three depots

First has started consultation on plans to close three depots: Newcastle-under-Lyme, Hereford and Bracknell. A total of 222 jobs are ‘at risk’.

It says: “In the wake of challenging local economies, reductions in external funding and insufficient passenger demand, difficult decisions had to be reached in order to sustain the long-term future of the local businesses.”

Bracknell will close on 28 August. Some routes will be retained but will operate from First’s depot in Slough, including Greenline services to London and Legoland services. First has sold its Reading-Bracknell route 90 to Reading Buses.

With strong competition in Bracknell, especially from Courtney Buses, First has been marginalised in the town for some time. In a statement Courtney Buses says: “We are working hard to assess resources and what we can do in response to First’s announcement that it is withdrawing from the Bracknell area.”

First proposes to close Hereford and Newcastle-under-Lyme depots on 5 September. In Hereford only 3,500 passengers per day travel with First and it plans to withdraw completely from the area.

In the Potteries, First will combine its Newcastle-under-Lyme and Stoke Adderley Green depots, which are in close proximity.

First says it remains “committed to running a significant fleet in the Potteries in the long term and will remain a major employer.”

Observers note that Potteries still has a large non-DDA-compliant single-deck fleet that needs to be replaced or withdrawn by 31 December. Vehicle reductions and cascades from Hereford (almost all DDA-compliant) mean this can now be achieved. It appears that earlier proposals for new buses have been dropped.

In Bracknell and Hereford, given the volume of other bus operators in the area, First is “confident” that passengers won’t be left without a service.

First Bus MD Giles Fearnley says: “In 2012 we launched our transformation plan, which has seen great success in a huge number of our local businesses. “However, despite all the hard work, we have been unable to make the progress we were seeking in Bracknell, Hereford and in some parts of the Potteries.

“While these proposals are disappointing, we simply must ensure our local businesses are on a sustainable and solid footing in order that we maintain the momentum of change toward meeting our medium-term financial targets, and therefore protect jobs in the long term. Regrettably, we see no alternative but to close these depots.”