Government rejects Suffolk's £77m bid for bus funding - but Norfolk nets £49m

Suffolk rural bus

Suffolk had bid for £77m to improve bus services in the county - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Suffolk’s bid for more than £77million to upgrade bus services across the county has been rejected by the Government in its £7billion package of transport upgrades.

Suffolk’s Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) bid lodged at the end of last year as part of the Government’s Bus Back Better scheme requested £77m over three years and £107m over five years for a series of upgrades.

They included daily fare caps on routes, a pocket Park and Ride service in Ipswich, merging Ipswich’s two main bus stations and a contactless or Oyster card-style ticketing system.

But Suffolk failed to secure a single penny in the Department for Transport’s announcement on Monday morning.

Neighbours Norfolk will get £49.6m.

The DfT said: “The successful areas have been chosen because of their ambition to repeat the success achieved in London – which drove up bus usage and made the bus a natural choice for everyone, not just those without cars.

“As the Government stated in last year’s national bus strategy, Bus Back Better,  areas not showing sufficient ambition, including for improvements to bus priority, would not be funded.”

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A spokesman added that unsuccessful bids “did not fully meet the criteria set out by the Government”.

Opposition councillors said the Conservative administration at Suffolk County Council had been “asleep at the wheel” for its bid.

Councillor Richard Smith, Suffolk County Council’s Conservative cabinet member for economic development, transport and waste, said: “We submitted an ambitious bid for up to £107m over five years.

“The funding we bid for would have given us a real opportunity to transform bus services in Suffolk.

“It is disappointing but it should be remembered that this funding would have been over and above our existing budget of £1.58m.

“Communities and bus users can be assured that we will continue to strive to provide the best possible service and infrastructure with the existing funding and through working together with operators through the proposed Enhanced Partnership.”

Other ambitions in Suffolk’s bid included:

  • Simplified services and multi-operator ticketing
  • Expansion to other areas for the experimental Katch electric bus service piloted between Framlingham and Wickham Market
  • Lower fares for those aged below 25
  • Improved routes to and from tourism hotspots
  • New bus corridors through Ipswich and automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) enforcement of bus lanes
  • Integrating school bus services with regular public network routes

It is understood that despite the funding setback, the council will still create an ‘enhanced partnership’ model of future service planning which will see the local authority working closer with bus service providers.

Without it, the council stood to lose more than £600,000 of its existing bus budget.

Andrew Stringer, leader of the opposition Green, Liberal Democrat and Independent group, said: “This is devastating news for Suffolk. The Conservative county council can’t even get a successful bid through their own party’s Government.

“Despite all the warnings we gave, Suffolk Conservatives were simply not ambitious enough in their bid. The very first question we put to the Conservatives running our council, was how many electric buses we would secure for Suffolk?

“We were told that Suffolk’s bid would be achievable and modest, but the Government wanted ambitious. Suffolk Conservatives gave them business as usual, resulting in zero funding for Suffolk.

“The electorate have the right to feel incredibly short-changed by the Conservatives that run the county council.”

Sandy Martin, deputy leader of the Labour group, said: “Over the years, Labour councillors and bus companies such as Ipswich Buses have identified investment opportunities which would make a huge difference to the affordability, speed and availability of buses, especially in the bigger towns.

“Instead of which, we have seen routes extinguished, Park & Ride in Norwich Road closed, the Explore card which made transport affordable for young people abolished, and the times for elderly and disabled bus passes seriously restricted.”