Cheshire East Council has expressed its disappointment at missing out on government funding to help transform local bus services.
The government has announced that only 31 counties, city regions and unitary authorities have been chosen for funding to level up their local bus services as part of Whitehall’s ‘Bus Back Better’ transformation programme. Cheshire East was not included in the announcement, with many other rural councils also excluded.
Cheshire East Council had submitted a funding bid to the Department for Transport, containing ambitious plans to transform bus services across the borough.
The Cheshire East Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) set out proposals to work with local communities, public transport users and local bus operators to secure services and deliver transformational change across the network.
The plan sought to deliver better quality, more reliable and more frequent buses, with simpler, integrated ticketing between bus routes and other public transport.
Councillor Craig Browne, chair of Cheshire East Council’s highways and transport committee, said: “This is a deeply disappointing blow to the council’s ambition to transform the borough’s bus network. Sadly, for many of our residents this is now going to mean ‘Bus Back Worse’.
“We submitted an ambitious plan to improve the speed, reliability and quality of public transport, so that it would help encourage more residents to choose the bus, make fewer car journeys, reduce the demand for parking and improve our air quality. Unfortunately, our request has fallen on deaf ears.
“The bus network in Cheshire East is facing a number of challenges due to a long-term structural decline in passengers – including a 24 per cent fall in passenger journeys since 2011 – compounded by recent loss of custom during the Covid-19 pandemic, staff shortages and exceptionally high costs inflation affecting fuel and wages.
“Without the investment needed to deliver our improvement plan, I fear we are likely to see a further decline in the availability of bus services in Cheshire East.”
Councillor Laura Crane, chair of the members’ advisory panel on the BSIP, said: “This is desperately disappointing news. Bus services face a real existential threat in whole areas of the country, not just in Cheshire East.
“Passengers need to be confident that they will get the reliable, safe and cost-effective transport that they expect. We need a bus service that works for our residents – one that is convenient and reliable, more user-friendly and greener, to ensure bus travel survives and begins again to thrive, rather than becoming a thing of the past. Government funding is vital for this.”
The current bus offer in Cheshire East is delivered across 54 bus routes and operated by nine bus companies. Of these 54 bus routes, 23 are either wholly or part subsidised by the council, which equates to approximately £2.1m a year.