Claims Derbyshire left ‘short-changed’ by Government over funding for bus services

Numerous Derbyshire bus routes which are already at risk of potentially being axed could be left in peril after an underfunded pitch for Government money.

By Eddie Bisknell, Local Democracy Reporter
Friday, 8th April 2022, 2:20 pm

Derby and Derbyshire have been given a fraction of the money they asked the Government for to roll-out major bus service improvement plans.

There have been claims that the county has been “short-changed” by central Government.

The Department for Transport announced this week that Derbyshire has been awarded £47 million for its bus service improvement plans, against a bid from the county council for nearly £105 million over five years.

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Councils are keen to promote public transport as a way of cutting down carbon emissions

Meanwhile, Derby City Council bid for around £38 million over five years and received £7 million

Both authorities submitted extensive bids for landmark once-in-a-generation improvements to bus services, after firms suffered heavily during the past two years due to pandemic restrictions.

Concerns over bus routes including a lack of services, irregular services and costly services were very much present before the pandemic.

Rural areas such as the Derbyshire county area are frequently a prime example of one in which residents without cars can find themselves effectively cut off.

Both councils are also keen to promote public transport as a way of cutting down carbon emissions.

Their funding bids represented a massive potential influx, dwarfing their current respective transport budgets and the amount of money currently allocated to bus services.

This included widespread costly bus station upgrades, real-time display boards at many more bus stops, safeguarded routes saved from potential cessation, more regular services and potential cut-price fares.

These potential plans rely on Bus Service Improvement Plan funding from the Department for Transport, the authorities’ bids detail.

In the county council’s bid it said: “Without this funding, the local ambition for buses as set out in the BSIP will not be realised.”

In the county council’s bid, this includes £2 million for real-time displays and shelters, alongside other measures, in the A632 and A619 in Chesterfield; bus stop improvements around the county for £110,000; timetable displays, signage and bus shelter lighting around the county for £58,500.

There is also £35,000 planned for a Belper bus station and Buxton Market Place bus hub upgrade for £121,000.

Bus priority lanes were to be rolled-out in Hornsbridge, St Augustine’s/A61, Storforth Lane/A61, Park Road/Markham Road, West Bars Gyratory, Saltergate/Clarence Road.

Increased parking enforcement was due to be rolled out to crack down on vehicles parking in spots which blocked bus access.

Contactless payment and fare capping was also to be funded through the plans.

Out of town park and ride hubs were also to be set up.

A “One Derbyshire” brand involving a network of branded buses was also to be created.

Up to 60 per cent of bus stops were to have real-time information boards, including key stops at Borrowash, Draycott, Breaston, Long Eaton, Sawley, Sandiacre, Chatsworth House, Swadlincote, Bakewell, Matlock Bath, Cromford and Wirksworth, costing £334,000.

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Derby City Council’s bid involved details saying that local bus companies claim they need £8.5 million in revenue support to maintain current services.

The bid said “there are a number of services which will be unable to continue past April 2022, in their current form, without further support”.

The city council said that, subject to Bus Service Improvement Plan funding, it will “investigate the costs and benefits of offering targeted reduced fares”.

It also said, subject to “sufficient” funding, it will “undertake a full review of frequencies on the network…the aim will be to ensure frequencies (of services) and hours of operation meet the needs of potential passengers”.

Enforcement of bus lane and bus stop parking, including CCTV equipment, also formed part of the city council’s bid.

The city council wants 200 bus stops to have real-time display boards, 50 per cent of residents to live within 400 metres of a frequent bus service, and 90 per cent of Derby buses to be Euro VI emissions standard or better.

It wants 17.2 million annual passenger journeys by 2024 to 2025 and 95 per cent of people to be satisfied with journey time and 85 per cent to be satisfied with value for money.

Cllr Joan Dixon, leader of the county’s Labour Group, said she found the news of the actual funding allocation as “quite disappointing”.

She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “We submitted a bid of between £95 million and £105 million. Rural buses are really important in Derbyshire and we want people to move away from their car and at the same time bus companies have suffered during the pandemic.

“The Government has short-changed Derbyshire yet again. They talk green but won’t deliver for us.

“It would be churlish to say the money we have got isn’t welcome, but it is not what we asked for.

“Derbyshire is supposed to be the heart of the levelling-up agenda and it isn’t being delivered on.”

Cllr Ed Fordham, leader of the county council’s Liberal Democrat Group, said: “Achieving £47million sounds like a success, but the truth is it will lead to cuts and bus routes being axed.

“More and more villages will be inaccessible on public transport and options will be limited to local people.

“This is a real example where the underfunding of local government will lead directly to poorer services across Derbyshire.

“I am worried for the next stage – no matter how this is dressed up, this will lead directly to a reduction in bus services across Derbyshire.”

Cllr Kewal Singh Athwal, county cabinet member for highways assets and transport, said: “We are delighted to have been awarded an indicative allocation of money to deliver our Bus Service Improvement Plan.

“We still have to get more information and details to the Government before the amount is confirmed, but I am confident that it will lead to better bus travel in the county.

“Bus services will become so much more attractive to more people and will mean less traffic on our roads. And that means that it helps with our approach to climate change.

“We will now work in partnership with all the bus companies and stakeholders to see how we can best spend the money we have been given.”

A spokesperson for Derby City Council said: “The scheme received a very high number of applications. Whilst the funding we have been allocated is less than we had bid for, we aren’t disappointed and are confident that we can make a substantial difference with the funding allocated.

“The council welcomes the initial announcement that funding is being made available for the next two years to help support improvements in bus services.

“The release of funding still needs to be finalised, but the indicative amount is supportive of the work done by the council, the local bus operators and representatives of local passenger groups to develop a joint improvement plan.

“The funding is also supported by Transforming Cities Funding, which is being used to deliver improvements on key public transport corridors, such as Nottingham Road, and with projects such as Pentagon Island being completed in 2021.

“This funding will also deliver improvements to the bus station and changes to traffic flow in the city centre which help with journey reliability.”

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “Buses are the most popular way of getting around in this country – but for too long people outside of London have had a raw deal.

“The investment we’re making today to ramp up the bus revolution will drive down fares at a time when people’s finances are tight and help connect communities across England.”