Belfast Telegraph

Hannon Coach urges council not to block Belfast to Londonderry express service

By Emma Deighan

A coach operator has appealed to a council committee not to block its plans to provide a Belfast to Londonderry express service in competition with Translink.

Hannon Coach, headed by Aodh Hannon, has applied for a licence to put the service in place in a potential £4m investment, creating up to 15 jobs.

However, Hannon Coach has said objections from Translink, which provides transport services here, have halted progress.

Owen McLaughlin, marketing manager for the firm, said the route was an "obvious need" in the area.

He said the company had recently secured a successful judicial review outcome against the Department for Infrastructure's original refusal.

But now he is calling on Derry City and Strabane District Council's Business and Culture Committee not to block the proposals and leave it to the Department for Infrastructure to decide.

Translink has already made a presentation detailing its opposition.

Mr McLaughlin said: "If the council committee comes out against us the department will then say no, so we implore them not to block it."

Translink has argued that any competition on the route could harm its ability to subsidise services on non-profitable, mainly rural routes.

It said its presentation takes into account "the current operating context, government policy and funding environment for public transport".

Translink added: "In particular, the company explained its public service contract obligations which ensures the cross-subsidy of non-profitable and typical rural routes with profitable services, in order to reduce the overall burden on the public purse, while maintaining socially necessary services."

But Mr McLaughlin said the route is a "no brainer".

"The service would not damage existing routes but complement them as is the case in the Republic where public and private services run alongside each other," he said.

"The legislation and regulations are very clear. The department turned our application down and we were forced into an expensive judicial review against its original decision.

"We have been successful in the review and have been awarded costs, so we are confident this will go our way this time."

Mr McLaughlin said the fight for the service was merely a "sideshow" to a bigger picture.

"What is really important here is that people realise just how disjointed the entire approach to investment in infrastructure has been," he added.

"We have Belfast identified as the UK's most congested city and huge sums being invested in road upgrades, while at the same time the department responsible is turning down applications to bolster the public transport network with private investment to provide much-need express services that are proven to encourage modal shift and get people out of their cars."

The committee's recommendation is due on Wednesday.

Belfast Telegraph

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