A year after submitting an application to run a new ‘express’ bus between Derry and Belfast, Hannon Coach is still determined to get the wheels rolling on the service.
That’s despite having endured a bumpy ride on the road to delivering the new route, a process it believes should have been completed within eight weeks of the original application being lodged on May 8, 2017.
Hannon promises the service, if ultimately approved, will yield 15 new jobs and result in a total investment of £4m over three years.
However, road bumps to date have included opposition from Translink, an initially adverse decision by the Department for Infrastructure (DfI), and the concerns of some Derry City & Strabane District councillors that the new service could undermine the public transport offering in the North West.
Notwithstanding these difficulties, Owen McLaughlin, group marketing manager, is confident, having recently secured a successful Judicial Review outcome against DfI’s original refusal, that there’s now clear a road ahead for the firm.
“It’s been a long year for us, but we are still committed to providing the Derry Express Service. It’s part of a £9.25m investment over the next three years and we have been busy preparing and implementing other elements of it,” he said.
Mr. McLaughlin, who briefed members of DC&SDC’s Business & Culture committee in March, hopes DfI will be in a position to make a decision on the proposal by the end of June at the latest.
“As part of the Judicial Review settlement, the DfI was required to provide its decision by the middle of this month. However, the DfI wrote to us to ask that we agree an extension to that deadline to enable the views of Translink to be considered at the next B&C committee e to be held next week. We agreed to that request.
“While this does mean a further delay and allows Translink to challenge our proposal, we take a longer view. It is more important for us that the council can come to an informed view than to get a quick decision or deny Translink or other stakeholders an opportunity to put their views forward. We want to be a partner of the council over the next five to 10 years - it’s more important to build good relationships and trust”.
Mr. McLaughlin, who in March told councillors that Ulsterbus journeys per person per year were down by 17 per cent over the past two years alone, took umbrage at Translink’s response that this analysis had been “incorrect”.
He said: “We were disappointed to learn that Translink’s PR unit made a statement to the ‘Journal’ claiming that we made false statements in relation to our representation to the committe. Translink is obviously quite an influential publicly-funded body and many councillors may well expect to be able to rely upon it to provide accurate information and act as a ‘trusted messenger.”
He pointed out that his figures had been carefully researched and sourced directly from DfI’s own official Travel Survey for Northern Ireland Report 2014-2016.