Shropshire Council loses bid for £98m Bus Back Better funding

News broke yesterday that Shropshire Council had lost its bid to the Bus Back Better fund. It is shocking news that Shropshire will not get a penny to support its struggling bus services.

The county’s bus services are in urgent need of upgrading to an age that is moving to zero carbon. That must include putting more buses on the road, more frequent buses, electric buses and transport hubs that are fit for the 21st century.

The council’s bid was in a glossier and shorter on targets that some successful bids. The endorsement from MPs might not have helped. When did they last get a bus in Shropshire? Or the council leadership for that matter? And why wasn’t a joint bid submitted with Telford and Wrekin (which aslo failed to gain funding). It is time the time the two councils worked together rather than competing.

Buses are too often seen as a drain on the public purse. They should be seen as an essential public service. If people can get to medical services, the shops and to friends, they will be healthier and happier reducing costs to public services.

It is a shock that Shropshire Council has not gained one penny from the government’s Bus Back Better fund. The county’s bus services, especially in rural areas, now have a more uncertain future than ever. Other rural areas such as Cornwall and Norfolk were successful with more ambitious proposals. Cornwall is to cut bus fares from next week.

The current problems with bus services are only partly due to the pandemic. Shropshire Council has failed to promote the county’s buses. The bus station in Shrewsbury is one of the worst I have visited in recent years, especially the toilets. I have complained endlessly about the state of Ludlow’s Eco Park park and ride site. When Councillor Steve Davenport was portfolio holder for transport, he visited the Eco Park and said he would act immediately to clean up the broken signage and other debris. He got in his car and drove away and that the last we heard from him. He is typical of the disregard for public transport shown by Shropshire Council.

If Shropshire Council wants sustainable transport, if it wants to meet local and national carbon reduction targets, if it cares about keeping local communities thriving, it needs to urgently invest in the county’s bus networks.

The loss of the Bus Back Better grant leaves Shropshire Council without an affordable and deliverable plan for bus services in the county.

It should conduct an immediate review of bus services in the county, the potential for generating income and the level of financial support the council can provide. It must aim to protect our vital rural services, most of which cannot operate without subsidy. It should urgently review its capital budget to allocate capital funding away from roads such as the NWRR and pie in the sky redevelopment of Shrewsbury town centre to improving bus infrastructure.