Cheshire Conservative MPs have met with the Minister for Buses, Richard Holden MP, to address constituents' concerns following Arriva's decision to notify employees of a proposal to close its bus depots in Winsford and Macclesfield, due to a national driver shortage combined with high levels of staff absence, and a resulting negative impact on their ability to run a resilient bus network.
Nationally, there has been a 20 per cent drop in bus usage since the Covid-19 pandemic, but on Arriva Cheshire routes this has been as high as 45 per cent.
Members of Parliament Edward Timpson (Eddisbury), David Rutley (Macclesfield), Fiona Bruce (Congleton) and Kieran Mullan (Crewe & Nantwich) represented their collective views at a meeting with the Minister last week in Parliament, together with Arriva.
Whilst local authorities Cheshire West & Chester and Cheshire East have said they will not step in to run these services, the private sector has come to the aid of the affected Arriva routes, with local company D&G and Stagecoach declaring their intentions to take on a number. These include the 31, 37 and 84.
Stagecoach currently operates 15 routes in the Chester area network, including Liverpool and Ellesmere Port, and will now add Nantwich and Crewe to that list.
D&G is recruiting both drivers and engineers to resource its new services, and in addition to its Crewe depot and headquarters in Stoke- on-Trent, has a smaller premises near Northwich. Its existing business includes a combination of contract wins and commercial services from other operators, and it already covers many areas served by Arriva from their depots.
In an answer to a Parliamentary question from Edward Timpson on Monday, the Minister for Buses disclosed that, since 2013, Cheshire East and Cheshire West & Chester Councils have received an annual payment of £347,865 and £314,318 respectively through the Bus Service Operators Grant.
Cheshire East Council also received £2.2 million since March 2020 to support services through the pandemic, of which they were paid £1,284,863 via Covid-19 Bus Service Support Grant, £534,874 via Bus Recovery Grant, and £382,682 from the Local Transport Fund.
Cheshire West and Chester Council were paid almost £1.5 million since March 2020 to support services through the pandemic, of which they were paid £721,690 via Covid-19 Bus Service Support Grant, £433,300 via Bus Recovery Grant and £339,672 from the Local Transport Fund.
David Rutley, MP for Macclesfield, commented on behalf of the Conservative MPs, saying: "Edward, Fiona, Kieran and I are all keeping a close eye on this situation—both with regard to the depot closures, and also the continuity of the affected bus routes. Locally, I am seeking an urgent meeting with D&G Bus to find out more about their plans for proposed new bus services and ask for the company’s support in replacing Arriva’s bus routes in our area.”
Edward Timpson CBE KC, MP for Eddisbury, added:
"We're pleased that a combination of private sector offers and political intervention has resulted in a positive outlook for the affected routes, and of course local authorities must do their duty in ensuring this is carried through."