Mayor of Greater Manchester backs buses amid HS2 uncertainty

Downing Street has refused to guarantee the high-speed line will run to Manchester as planned.

Andy Burnham has criticised the uncertainty over the future of high-speed rail ahead of buses being brought back under public control in Greater Manchester for the first time in nearly 40 years.

The Mayor of Greater Manchester claimed while the region was moving forward on buses, transport was going backwards nationally due to speculation about the high-profile HS2 project after Downing Street refused to guarantee the high-speed line will run to Manchester as planned.

The line is intended to link London, the Midlands and the north of England but has been plagued by delays and soaring costs, with some calling for the project to be abandoned altogether.

Mayor Andy Burnham launched the Bee Network September 2023. Credit: GMCA

Mr Burnham said: “You’ve got Greater Manchester, in many ways independently, with some support from the Government, but largely through our own efforts, bringing forward a major change to public transport which we believe will deliver public benefits, and at the same time at national level everything going backwards including HS2 and rail investment.

“It’s almost a decade since George Osborne came here and promised us the earth.

“It was HS2, HS3, better services on trans-Pennine route, expanded timetable and pretty much none of that has happened, in fact railways have been in chaos and gone backwards since then.

“The north of England was given massive promises by the Cameron-Osborne government, by the Johnson government, and now it looks like the Sunak government finally takes away what has been promised.

“It’s quite staggering, isn’t it, to find ourselves in a position where we’ve had a Government in for 13 years, overseeing this project, that now won’t, if the briefings are true, end up going to Manchester and won’t end up going to central London. It beggars belief really.

“This, bear in mind, is the end of a Parliament which was meant to be about levelling up. Nothing could symbolise more clearly that the opposite has happened.”

Buses in Greater Manchester will be brought back under control for the first time in 40 years. Credit: GMCA

Mr Burnham was speaking at the launch of a real-time app for the new bus services in Greater Manchester, branded the Bee Network.

From Sunday, parts of the region will have publicly-controlled bus services for the first time since the 1980s when services were deregulated everywhere outside London.

Since then, the number of bus journeys made in the capital, where bus services remained under local control, has doubled, but fallen by millions in other English cities.

The Greater Manchester Combined Authority will now have more control over fares, timetables and routes by issuing franchises to private firms to operate services.

Mr Burnham said: “You could say it represents devolution in England coming of age, because this is a major decision about how critical services run and it’s a decision been taken by the city region, and will have a significant bearing on people’s lives.

“Deregulation does not work, and I would say not just on buses, but on many other things as well.

“The mantra that the market is the answer to everything has been disproved by bus deregulation.”

The Bee Network will begin on Sunday September 24, with a fleet of 50 new electric buses operating in Bolton, Wigan and parts of Salford and Bury, and will roll out across the region until 2025.