Cheshire East bus image (1)

Cheshire East Council will drive ahead with scaled-back plans to improve bus services despite the government putting the brakes on some schemes by refusing grant funding, writes Belinda Ryan.

The council had put together an ambitious bus service improvement programme (BSIP) in the hope of securing funding as part of the government’s national “bus back better” strategy.

Cllr Craig Browne, chair of the highways and transport committee, said he was “very disappointed not to receive the cash”.

He added: “Our BSIP was ambitious in response to the government’s call to develop a plan that transformed bus services across the borough.

“We are still intending to press ahead with as many of the actions outlined in the BSIP as we can without additional funding, such as the programme of bus shelter replacements, bus stop replacements, and the establishment of a passenger charter.

“But clearly those actions are going to be rolled out more slowly and in a lesser numbers than would have been the case if we’d had the funding from the Department for Transport (DfT).”

The committee voted at today’s (April 13) meeting to press ahead with its plans to set up an enhanced partnership.

This would see representatives from the council, bus operators, bus user groups, emergency services and strategic business groups collectively plan for public transport provision.

Cllr Browne (Alderley Edge, Ind) said this could only be ‘a good thing’.

“The DFT have made it clear to us that not only our ability to bid for future discretionary funding, but also our ability to retain existing Covid recovery grant funding, are going to be dependent upon the council having an enhanced partnership arrangement in place, so not to proceed isn’t really an option,” he said.

Cllr Janet Clowes (Wybunbury, Con) said those local authorities that had received government funding were urban conurbations, which had a well-established public transport infrastructure “in the way that shire counties like Cheshire East do not because of our rural aspect”.

She said she hoped there would be a second round of funding.

“I want to be optimistic for the future,” said Cllr Clowes.

“But what is absolutely clear is that we won’t get any funding at all, or indeed any other kind of grant funding, unless we have an enhanced partnership in place.”

Cheshire East has one of the lowest rates of people using buses in the country.

Poynton councillor Mike Sewart (Con) said if the funding bid had been successful he had hoped this would have boosted the use of buses.

Cllr Mike Hunter (Middlewich, Lab) said: “It is very disappointing that we, and other authorities, have to go cap in hand to government for funding to provide things that should be there as normal.

“We do need to look to the future, this (enhanced partnership) is the foundation for the future.”

Committee vice chair Laura Crane (Sandbach Ettiley Heath, Lab) said: “The bus back better scheme gave us a slogan, it gave us hope and it’s been dashed.”

She said hopefully there would be a second round of BSIP funding and an opportunity for the more rural communities to get more money for buses.

“I think this enhanced partnership working has already built some quite solid relationships with the bus companies that we didn’t have in the past and I think it does, without the funding, still give us the best opportunity that Cheshire East has had to improve our services for the residents of the borough,” said Cllr Crane.

She proposed the recommendations, which included approving that the finalised draft enhanced partnership plan and scheme documents be submitted to the Department for Transport before the end of April.

The committee voted in favour.

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