Transport schemes to go ahead and a chance the 18 bus service could be rescued?

Spending on major transport schemes including the A4 between Bristol and Bath was approved last week as more flesh was applied to the bones of the West of England Combined Authority’s (WECA) half-a-billion pound funding grant from the Government.

Last year, we reported that the region had received approval of its City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement (CRSTS) for £540m. Metro Mayor Dan Norris explained at last Friday’s meeting of the WECA committee that the next stage was to show the Government how the money will be spent before asking for any more.

Accordingly, the committee approved a raft of transport infrastructure projects including more than £100m on Bristol to Bath Sustainable Transport Corridor. With a further 20% contribution for local councils, the scheme is divided into three sections: the segregated routes from Bristol to Brislington, Keynsham to Bath and the Hicks Gate transport hub.

Other ‘corridor’ schemes include the Somer Valley to Bristol and Bath and Stockwood to Cribbs Causeway while the metrobus Hengrove extension, improvements to the Bristol and Bath Railway Path and Liveable Neighbourhood schemes in all three local authorities also received funding allocations for the next stage of development.

On the vexed question of local bus services, there was a dire warning from transport campaigner and Bus Users UK representative David Redgewell. Addressing the committee, he said that local transport companies were in a dire position with a predicted 30% shortfall in funding and the prospect of further service cuts if no more money is forthcoming after 31st March. He urged the Metro Mayor and council leaders to unite in the call to Transport Minister Grant Shapps to continue support for bus companies in the light of the pandemic.

But there was one bit of good news. In one of the lengthy procedural matters, the committee agreed a request from South Gloucestershire leader Toby Savage to divert some extra funding towards local bus services. An amendment was agreed to one of the budget proposals which will divert £384,000 from a reserve fund to provide one-off financial support in the next financial year for bus routes in rural areas and communities not well served by public transport.

Asked after the meeting whether that meant the 18 bus could be reinstated. Toby Savage said not directly, but the fund could provide the means for a service between the areas affected by its withdrawal.