Pri­vate firm’s bid to run new bus ser­vice to north west turned down

Han­non ‘dis­ap­pointed’ as aim to com­pete with Translink re­jected EX­CLU­SIVE

Belfast Telegraph - Business Telegraph - - Front Page - BY JOHN MULGREW

A BUS com­pany plan­ning to run an ex­press ser­vice be­tween Belfast and Lon­don­derry in a £4m in­vest­ment has said it is “dis­ap­pointed” at a govern­ment de­ci­sion to turn it down, the Belfast Tele­graph can re­veal.

Han­non Coach, based in Aghalee, Co Antrim, and led by Aodh Han­non, wanted to run a ser­vice op­er­at­ing up to 20 times a day.

But it can be re­vealed that the Depart­ment for In­fra­struc­ture has de­nied the firm a li­cence to op­er­ate the route.

It said it is “un­able to is­sue a bus ser­vice per­mit” for a num­ber of rea­sons.

The depart­ment said that, due to the high level of ex­ist­ing ser­vice and fare lev­els, it is “al­ready ad­e­quately and eco­nom­i­cally served”.

And it said the “grant­ing of a ser­vice per­mit... would have a neg­a­tive im­pact on cur­rent Translink ser­vices”.

“Ul­ster­bus is al­ready op­er­at­ing at a sig­nif­i­cant loss year-on-year and the grant of the pro­posed ser­vice per­mit would have a detri­men­tal ef­fect on its fi­nances,” it said.

If the li­cence had been ap­proved, the buses could have run from Translink bases. It would have been the first sig­nif­i­cant com­peti­tor to Translink’s mo­nop­oly on bus ser­vices in North­ern Ire­land.

Han­non Coach is the newly-formed busi­ness from long-es­tab­lished Co Ar­magh firm Han­non Trans­port, which turns over more than £20m a year. It’s un­der­stood the depart­ment wrote to the com­pany with its de­ci­sion yes­ter­day.

A spokesman for Han­non Coach told the Belfast Tele­graph: “We are, un­der­stand­ably, very dis­ap­pointed with the

de­ci­sion of the Depart­ment for In­fra­struc­ture as com­mu­ni­cated in writ­ing to us.

“This would have rep­re­sented a very sig­nif­i­cant in­ward rein­vest­ment, in to­tal in the re­gion of £4m over three years with the cre­ation of 15-plus jobs.

“The pro­posal was based upon sound trans­port eco­nom­ics and ad­vice from a lead­ing ex­pert in the field which does not ap­pear to have been taken into ac­count in any mean­ing­ful way.

“The depart­ment cited ‘ the rel­a­tive sim­i­lar­ity of the fares’ as one of its few rea­sons for re­ject­ing our ap­pli­ca­tion — given that the fares we pro­posed were a min­i­mum of 17% cheaper and up to 42% cheaper for a cou­ple trav­el­ling on an open re­turn, this is very dif­fi­cult to ac­cept.

“The de­ci­sion by the depart­ment sends a very bad sig­nal to any­one wish­ing to in­vest in ser­vices to help stim­u­late travel and tourism in North­ern Ire­land. We will seek a meet­ing as soon as pos­si­ble with the depart­ment to voice our con­cerns.”

In May, Derry City and Stra­bane District Coun­cil wrote to the Depart­ment for In­fra­struc­ture to say: “The view of the mem­bers was that they would not be in favour of a ser­vice per­mit be­ing granted in this in­stance.”

SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly, who hails from Aghalee, had said the coun­cil should take a fresh look at the busi­ness’s plan.

A spokes­woman for Translink said it was “very much com­mit­ted” to de­liv­er­ing high qual­ity pub­lic trans­port in the north west.

“Con­nec­tiv­ity has re­cently been fur­ther en­hanced for the re­gion with the in­tro­duc­tion of the new hourly rail timetable to com­ple­ment our fast, fre­quent 212 Gold­line coach ser­vice,” the spokes­woman said.

“Pas­sen­gers now have over 50 Translink coach and train ser­vices ev­ery day to choose from to travel be­tween NI’S two largest cities.

“We also of­fer a range of every­day good value, com­pet­i­tive fares such as Smartlink multi-jour­ney tickets of­fer­ing dis­counts of around 30% for bus travel com­pared to pay­ing cash fares.”

Aodh Han­non of Han­non Trans­port

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