A new £5bn package for UK bus services should help bring thousands of orders to Wrightbus in Ballymena for its hydrogen-fuelled buses, it’s been claimed.
A five-year funding package announced by the Prime Minister will also allow for new priority bus routes and the purchase of at least 4,000 zero-emission buses in England and Wales.
North Antrim DUP MP Ian Paisley said the package could bring a boost in orders for Wrightbus of between 2,000 and 3,000 – and that it would bring hydrogen-fuelled buses down to the cost of diesel.
Boris Johnson also pledged to create 250 miles of new cycle routes around England and Wales. In the House of Commons, he said he would put “more than 4,000 brand-new buses on the roads – zero carbon British built buses –on the roads of places”.
Wrightbus executive chairman Jo Bamford, who bought the Co Antrim company last year, has pledged to boost the company’s prowess in making hydrogen-fuelled vehicles.
Around 1,200 people lost their jobs when the company went into administration. However, Mr Bamford now has a workforce of 400 people.
In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph last month, Mr Bamford said the company is working on providing 20 hydrogen-fuelled buses in London, and 15 in Aberdeen, while Birmingham is also expected to sign up.
On Tuesday, Mr Bamford welcomed the Prime Minister’s announcement and said it could help the UK lead the way in zero-emissions technology.
“Wrightbus is committed to delivering the next generation of zero emissions buses for the UK and for markets around the world," he said.
There are two manufacturers in the UK capable of producing these buses, with Wrightbus in Ballymena the only one of the two that is British-ownedIan Paisley
“Whilst there is a role for both battery electric and hydrogen electric bus solutions, other countries have already captured the industrial and economic benefits of developing battery electric technology.
“If the Government acts now by prioritising funding for thousands of hydrogen electric buses, the UK will be able to steal a march on other nations by building a thriving hydrogen economy with zero emissions technology ripe for export.”
Mr Paisley said the Prime Minister’s announcement was “hugely significant”.
“There are two manufacturers in the UK capable of producing these buses, with Wrightbus in Ballymena the only one of the two that is British-owned.
“An investment in both battery powered and hydrogen powered buses can provide a huge boost for Wrightbus and for employment and the wider Northern Ireland economy.
“It is a very good news story and I have spoken to the Prime Minister and encouraged him to continue his support for the UK bus market and particularly for a locally made product which leads the world in this technology.”
But Mr Bamford has said Wrightbus may need support to fulfill its ambitions to manufacture more hydrogen-fuelled buses.
“The only problem is we need to make hydrogen on a big enough scale so we need to somehow get a wind farm here and a big electrolyser to make it cost the same as diesel... “We might get government support, and once you get government support, then it’s great.”