Belfast Telegraph

Hannon's Londonderry to Belfast bus plan at risk over council 'concerns'

By Emma Deighan

A coach firm's hopes of launching an express bus between Londonderry and Belfast could be dashed for a second time after a council committee expressed concerns over the impact the route could have on existing Translink services.

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

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.

And more recently he called on Derry City and Strabane District Council not to block the proposals and to leave it to the department to decide.

But a new statement from the council, following a meeting with Translink, has expressed concerns over the impact the service could have on the route.

A council spokesperson said: "The May meeting of its business and culture committee received a presentation from Translink regarding the application from Hannon Coaches Ltd to provide a bus service between Derry and Belfast. Members discussed the proposal and expressed concern at the potential impact it could have on current Translink services and those views have been sent to the department."

The spokesperson said the department was responsible for issuing commercial bus service permits but had entered into consultation with the council as part of its legislative requirements.

It added: "The decision to either grant or deny the permit will be taken by the department."

Mr McLaughlin said that the council's statement was "disappointing".

But he said that he was hopeful that "after a successful judicial review, for which we were awarded costs, the department will make a lawful decision this time around". He added: "To be honest, our 'fight' to get this is really a sideshow.

"What is really important here is that people realise just how disjointed the entire approach to investment in infrastructure has been within Northern Ireland.

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

The Londonderry-Belfast route, which Mr McLaughlin claims will take 600 cars off the roads, is part of a £9.25m investment by Hannon Coach to provide a network of express services here.

The company has already invested £1.75m launching a direct express service between Glasgow and Belfast.

Meanwhile, Translink has joined up with Bus Eireann to introduce a new express route between Newry, Dublin Airport and Dublin city.

And today it is set to host a business/stakeholder event to address the future of the Enterprise cross-border rail service.

Translink and Iarnrod Eireann will launch a strategic plan on investment for the service.

Belfast Telegraph

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