Council joins forces with partners to revitalise Cumbrian bus services

Cumbrian Councils, bus operators and partners have joined forces to drive positive change to bus services across the county.

On Friday 9 February, the Enhanced Partnership Forum met for the first time where over 30 representatives from Westmorland and Furness Council, Cumberland Council, Stagecoach, independent bus operators and partners including Cumbria Tourism, took part in round-table discussions on how authorities can work together to improve bus transport.

The opening meeting encouraged positive debate between forum members on the known challenges operators and councils face in delivering and sustaining viable services here in Cumbria, a very large and lightly populated landscape with limited road space.

The forum will continue to meet twice a year and aims to create a space for collaborative conversations, irrespective of borders, on how bus services can better meet the needs of local communities and visitors. The forum aims to create a sustainable network of bus routes and encourage more people to choose bus as their preferred form of transport.

Westmorland and Furness Council will build on initial discussions and work collaboratively with partners between now and June to best allocate £1.7 million of funding awarded to the Council in 2024/25. The monies awarded by Department for Transport (DfT) includes £412,130 from the Bus Service Improvement Plan Plus (BSIP+) funding and a further £1.28 million redirected from HS2 following the Government’s Network North announcement.

Councillor Neil Hughes, Cabinet Member for Transport and Environmental Services, said:

“Buses play a vital role in our communities, offering a lifeline for many of our residents, particularly in more rural areas. For many people without access to a car, buses are the only way they can travel to health services, to shops and leisure, to places of work, to colleges and further education.

“The first meeting of the Enhanced Partnership marks the start of our exciting journey to revolutionising public transport provision in Westmorland and Furness, England’s most sparsely populated local authority area.

“We aim to build on the fantastic work that has already been delivered by working together with partners in the coming months to understand the needs of our communities and agree how best to allocate the £1.7 million of funding. Our vision is to make public transport sustainable and reliable, and establish well-used bus services that will take us one step closer to achieving our net zero ambitions.

“Whilst this significant sum will enable partners to make progress in improving bus services across our area, it is important to highlight this is a one grant for 2024/25 and long-term funding would help us overcome the challenge we face in making them reliable and encourage people to use buses, even if they do have a car.”

Westmorland and Furness residents have already started to see the benefits of an initial £412,130 of BSIP+ funding awarded to the Council in 2023/24 to reintroduce routes which have been withdrawn or support those that have been reduced within the past five years.

Key connecting routes in Kendal have been maintained, and services restored in Alston, Arnside, Appleby, Grange, Penrith, Sedbergh and Windermere. A further £178,000 has also been ring-fenced to support transport of workers in the hospitality and tourism sector, increasing the frequency of two bus services from Keswick to Penrith, and Barrow to Windermere.

During Friday’s Forum, attendees voted to appoint a Chair of the Enhanced Partnership Board who will oversee the work of the forum and ensure operators and the Council are fulfilling the aims of the Enhanced Partnership Plan.

Appointed as joint-Chairs were Lorrainne Smyth, Chief Executive of Action with Communities, a charity that champions community and rural issues, and Andrew McGuiness, North Region Manager of Confederation Passenger Transport.

Speaking on behalf of the Board, Ms. Smyth said:

“We look forward to working positively with both local authorities, operators and wider stakeholders to help ensure buses deliver a dependable, sustainable and affordable service that leads to more people, both residents and visitors being able to choose and use public transport in Cumbria.”

The Enhanced Partnership Forum will next meet in September 2024. For more information on bus services across Westmorland and Furness, visit westmorlandandfurness.gov.uk.


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