Stagecoach has submitted a court application for a Judicial Review of Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s (GMCA) second consultation on bus franchising in the region. It says that the move, which was made in February, has come because of a “failure to meet the required standards on proper process, evidence and analysis required by law,” and has accused GMCA of conducting “an unlawful process.”
GMCA leaders will consider at a special meeting on 23 March whether they recommend to Mayor Andy Burnham that he proceeds with franchising. Stagecoach’s application for a Judicial Review notwithstanding, reports and other documents published on 12 March indicate that such a request to Mr Burnham is likely.
In strongly worded criticism of GMCA, Stagecoach Chief Executive Martin Griffiths says that the operator believes the Combined Authority has “conducted an unlawful process and a flawed consultation on proposals which do not properly reflect the fundamental and material changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
GMCA says that its two consultation exercises have shown strong support for franchising, including from some operators. It also believes that a decision can be made now with a good understanding of any consequences of the pandemic.
Mr Griffiths has urged GMCA to pause its franchising plans. He says: “This is simply not the right time to be considering spending huge sums of money on a bus franchising scheme that does not meet the tests laid down in law. The proposed scheme also involves spending £135m on transitional costs alone, without delivering any improved services for customers and when at the same time, multi-million-pound cuts are being considered to vital frontline public services.”
The Stagecoach Chief Executive adds that “a significant number” of responses to the consultation demonstrate “widespread concern” among local stakeholders. He says that Stagecoach remains ready to work in partnership with GMCA on “alternative plans to stabilise and rebuild bus services.”
In response to Stagecoach’s application for a Judicial Review, a GMCA spokesperson says that the Combined Authority has “reviewed and filed a response to the claim and is awaiting an update from the court on next steps.
“It would not be appropriate to comment further at this stage.”