Court of Appeal rejects attempt to block Mayor’s key transport scheme

Transport group Rotala has reached the end of the road in its attempts to block Mayor Andy Burnham’s plans to bring the bus network under public control in Greater Manchester.

The Court of Appeal dismissed Rotala’s appeal against a judgement handed down in March.

The West Midlands-based group had first made a claim to the High Court of Manchester to judicially review a number of aspects of the consultation process carried out by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) which led to the decision of the Mayor to franchise the bus network.

Rotala has now said it “has resolved to take no further steps in this legal process”.

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said: “This is brilliant news for the people of Greater Manchester – and for anyone across the UK who cares about having a bus service that puts people ahead of shareholder profit.”

The end of the legal dispute clears the way for Greater Manchester to press on with its bus franchise plans. It also provides encouragement to other Mayors, particularly Liverpool’s Steve Rotheram and South Yorkshire’s Oliver Coppard, who were watching the legal case with interest.

Burnham said: “This clear and unanimous judgment is another green light which means that we can now power ahead at full speed to deliver bus franchising across Greater Manchester as part of our Bee Network: an integrated, accessible and affordable ‘London-style’ transport system joining together buses, trams, cycling and walking.

“And I hope that the unanimous rejection of this appeal paves the way for other city regions such as Liverpool City Region and South Yorkshire to progress with their ambitions to bring buses under public control.”

Rotala’s share price fell 8% yesterday after the judgement was issued, although its closing price of 29p is in line with its one-year average and is 35% higher than when the High Court ruled in March.

GMCA has already announced mechanisms which cover the acquisition of bus depots and bus fleets under its franchising proposals.

Rotala said it has reviewed those mechanisms and is “confident…the values which would be realised from the sale of Bolton depot and its related bus fleet should meet or exceed their respective book values”.

A sale “would have no negative effect on the group’s balance sheet”, Rotala said in a statement to the stock market.

It would enable the group to pay off the existing mortgage on the Bolton depot and the hire purchase debt associated with the bus assets based there, and it would look to redeploy the capital currently invested in Bolton elsewhere.

GMCA had already set out its timetable for rolling out the bus franchise network. It will reach Wigan, Bolton and parts of Salford from September 2023, followed by Bury, Rochdale and parts of North Manchester in spring 2024, then Stockport, Trafford, Tameside and South Manchester by the end of 2024.