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Manchester Evening News
Manchester Evening News
Paul Britton

Plans for new 'state of the art' electric bus depot at 13-acre site

A huge new electric bus depot is being planned for Greater Manchester, with a 'potential site' in north Manchester already earmarked for the 'state of the art' development.

Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) and Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) hope to buy a sprawling plot of land from Manchester city council in what's said to be a £10m deal, with its purchase set to be confirmed by the end of this month. The Government has so far pledged £7.5m for the project, which leaves a funding shortfall of £2.5m GMCA say is 'expected to be funded from borrowings as part of the overall bus reform programme'.

A 'vacant site' over 13 acres currently owned by the council in the 'Central Park' area of north Manchester has been identified as a 'suitable' location, although it's exact location hasn't been revealed by TfGM.

Negotiations with the council for the site are said to be ongoing, with the depot planned to have capacity for up to 250 new electric buses. Details can be revealed by the Manchester Evening News today as the first yellow bus of Greater Manchester's Bee Network revolution hits the road.

The first branded bus entered service on Friday, serving the number eight route connecting Bolton and Manchester city centre via Farnworth and Salford, with civic leaders saying more are set to appear on the roads in coming months.

The Bee Network - the name given to the new London-style integrated public transport system across Greater Manchester - is set to be rolled out in full across the region by the end of 2024.

Buses in Manchester city centre (Manchester Evening News)

Leaders have also agreed to buy 50 zero-emission electric buses for Wigan and Bolton, where the first publicly-controlled buses will operate from in September, marking the biggest change to transport in Greater Manchester for almost 40 years. They will run alongside new 'Euro VI' vehicles and dozens more co-branded buses from the existing fleet, including Vantage buses. A further 50 electric buses will also be introduced onto the network in March next year, when the second part of franchising starts.

GMCA also announced on Friday an order has been placed for a further 170 electric buses that will operate in Stockport by next year. All of the 270 new electric buses will be fully accessible, with wheelchair bays, hearing induction loops, audio and visual announcement systems and anti-slip flooring.

In December last year the GMCA, together with other English combined authorities, was invited to bid for Government funding. An allocation of £20m for three specific projects was confirmed in February, with £7.5m for the electric bus depot being one of them.

The money will be used to 'support the acquisition of land required to support' its construction, revealed a report from a senior Greater Manchester councillor and the GMCA's treasurer on Friday.

The plans are described as a 'state of the art, national exemplar electronic bus depot' which it's hoped will support the quicker roll out of proposals to introduce a zero-emission bus fleet for Greater Manchester, improving air quality across urban areas. The report reveals: "A vacant site owned by Manchester City Council in Central Park has been identified as suitable for this depot.

Andy Burnham with a Bee bus (TfGM)

"The site is approximately 13 acres and while negotiations with the City Council are continuing the price for the land is expected to be in the region of £10m. This leaves a shortfall of £2.5m which it is expected will be funded from borrowings as part of the overall bus reform programme.

"Given the limited time available only outline scheme design has been possible at this stage but it is expected that capacity for up to 250 e-buses will be accommodated at this site.

"An additional parcel of land adjacent to the site might become available and it is expected that this land if acquired will deliver greater economies of scale and potentially offer opportunities to support other GM operations outside of the public transport sector."

The plans would bring 'significant job opportunities to the region' and generate new, highly-skilled construction jobs said in the report to be 'critical for the GM region and beyond'.

A strategy aims to consolidate the 10 existing bus depots around Greater Manchester into larger depot sites serving larger geographical areas, with GMCA saying the electric depot plans would also allow current diesel depots to be 'retired' and 'reprovisioned for further development and regeneration'.

The mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said: "This is very much the start of our journey that will ultimately deliver a greener, integrated and more inclusive transport system that will transform how people travel around our city-region." TfGM also revealed it is looking to take control of existing bus depots by buying or leasing them, before refurbishing and transforming them into 'modern, high-tech, sustainable facilities'.

Transport Commissioner, Vernon Everitt, said all buses would be operating under franchised arrangements by January 2025. Bosses will then work towards the integration of local rail services into the Bee Network by 2030. He said: "This preparation of the bus fleet for franchised operation in six months’ time marks a further significant step towards the integrated Bee Network and transformation of public transport and active travel in our growing city-region."

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