Bridgwater Steps Up Campaign to save Bus Depot

‘Save our Depot’ demo

With increased media interest in the First Group decision to close Bridgwater Bus depot and the involvement of both Bridgwater Trades Union Council and Bridgwater Town Council, campaigners took to the streets today to make the case for keeping it open. At a demo at Bridgwater Bus Station Dave Chapple, Secretary of Bridgwater Trades Council said ‘Bridgwater won’t give up without a fight’ and Cllr Brian Smedley, Leader of Bridgwater Town Council accused Lib Dem Transport Portfolio Holder  Cllr Mike Rigby of being ‘asleep at the wheel’. As resistance builds the Town Council has written directly to Simon Goff, Managing Director of First Buses, calling for a meeting in the town next week to try to work together to resolve the crisis saying “First say this is a commercial decision -but if so it’s a mistake. Bus travel is on the increase across the country and it’s a priority for a green and sustainable future so they need to think long term not short term. Bridgwater is a growing town with increased industry coming here and its already a transport hub so it’s incredibly short sighted to close this crucial service centre now and relocate these 53 people around the county when they’re needed here along with the bus depot.”

Cllr Smedley and Simon Goff have been in correspondence this week and we reproduce the emails here.

Smedley to Goff ‘Invitation to meet’

Cllr Brian Smedley at the demo alongside protestor Linda Wheatley

Dear Mr Goff I am writing to you both as Leader of Bridgwater Town Council and as a County Councillor for Bridgwater to urge you to reconsider your decision to close  Bridgwater Bus Depot.

The matter has been raised at the Somerset Bus partnership, the Bridgwater Transport Forum and at the Bridgwater Trades Council this week and there is universal opposition to this plan which also includes cutting back of services in the Bridgwater area.
This is totally at odds with Bridgwater’s recent and future growth as an economic hub with the Hinkley Point project well underway and the Gravity ‘Gigafactory’ iminent. 
The Town Council strongly promotes the idea of green energy and sustainable transport and are therefore keen to focus on increased and not diminished bus provision.
Therefore your decision does not seem in touch with the reality of the situation on the ground here in Bridgwater.
Could you please reply asap explaining your reasons and how this will help promote bus use and sustainable transport in future.
You are of course welcome to attend a Transport Forum meeting or a Bridgwater Town Council meeting to explain your position
yours sincerely
Cllr Brian Smedley
Leader Bridgwater Town Council
Somerset County Councillor Bridgwater South

Goff to Smedley ‘agrees to consult’

Simon Goff from First responds

Dear Cllr Smedley

Thank you for getting in touch. We have been transparent about the challenges we have faced with our operations in Somerset and continue to work closely with all our stakeholders in Somerset.

The decision to close Bridgwater was not taken lightly, but to retain the network in Somerset, we have to make changes. We cannot continue to run services where there are simply not enough customers, and which therefore operate at a loss. We have maintained these at cost for a considerable time and we must now focus our resources where they are needed most, to ensure we can continue to best support the wider network in Somerset. 

During the Somerset Council Bus Advisory board meeting on 25 July, I gave a detailed presentation on the rationale for the Bridgwater closure and plans for the future. In the main, our plans were well supported and Somerset Council commented on our open and honest approach. If you haven’t seen it, the session was recorded and should provide additional information https://youtu.be/ZqQmJfN7nsc

Trades Council Secretary Dave Chapple addresses the demo

I would also like to reassure you that our operations will not be affected by the closure of our Bridgwater depot. We operate with several depots in close proximity of Bridgwater, including Taunton, which is only 11 miles away, allowing us to continue to run services without any disruption to passengers.

We constantly review our network and use real time passenger data to help us focus our resources where they are needed most. In terms of plans for Bridgwater’s new gigafactory, we are always open to new routes and services, but these would have to show there is sufficient customer demand to make them viable.

We want to encourage people to use the bus and we’re grateful to our customers and stakeholders for their support and patience. We continue to work closely with Somerset Council through the Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) to improve services, as well as supporting their bus user campaigns. We are also looking at ways to better engage with local communities around network changes and enhancements.

My team and I would be happy to discuss this in more detail with you.

Yours sincerely

Simon Goff Managing Director First South

Smedley to Goff ‘set the date’

Eastover Town Councillor Tony Heywood lobbies a bus traveller

Simon

Thank you for replying to me in such detail and my offer below to meet and your acceptance should be something that I hope could happen next week if possible.
Of course I watched the recording of the meeting and couldn’t help noticing that you accepted a gap in the consultation process at that meeting and by meeting with the Town Council and its Transport Forum would be something which goes a long way to remedying that oversight .
Of course we understand the business model that First is working to and how you can come to the conclusion that closing one of the depots you can recoup dividends elsewhere, but again at that meeting it was clearly mentioned that bus travel had considerably increased and one of those areas especially key here was the 21/21a route – which is the main ‘intercity’ route for us here in Bridgwater.
The other factor in the closure of Bridgwater which I haven;t heard you explain properly is the ‘dead miles’ brought about by the changes for our workers in this town – Do you have plans to ameliorate those with some temporary or transitional solution, an extra early bus? A dead miles compensations cheme?
Cllr Tim Mander alongside Unite Community member Andy Mitchell

You also mention the cost of living crisis and the energy price hikes that have affected you, but similarly these have affected the workers at the depot and the passengers current and potential. Obviously the economic reality is that in the future this will rectify itself and with the correct campaign for increased bus use this will increase and profits too.

With the committed move to green energy and sustainable transport bus use can only increase further – and I suspect increased government and council subsidies – therefore it could also be seen that closing the Bridgwater depot is a false economy at this stage.
In the not too distant future as Bridgwater grows and yet another ground breaking factory, specialising in Green energy, springs up within our area, a good reliable and oven ready bus service will surely benefit.
Closing the depot here in Bridgwater in no way futureproofs our town and your company so I would strongly urge you to reconsider. Busses are the future and cutting now is a mistake.
I repeat, come and meet us during next week and talk this through.
Brian Smedley

Growing public support

County Labour Leader cllr Leigh Redman calls in with a message of support

Todays demo also saw a speech from Pete Travis of the Somerset Bus Partnership (who travelled all the way from Frome) (by bus) urging support for increased bus use and a message of support from Labour County Group leader cllr Leigh Redman (Bridgwater North) which read “I send solidarity to the protesters at Bridgwater Bus station this morning, it is a shame that I cant be with the demonstration today, i am on leave and away with my wife . if i was there i would be asking Somerset council why they are not engaging with First senior director’s over the actions, the closure of the bus depot is another nail in our transport locally ! the cuts in service will impact Bridgwater, North Petherton , Burnham and Highbridge locally . i will be asking why Somerset Council are paying First to support Taunton and Yeovil service’s while letting ours be cut? why are senior Councillors not inviting the First board or director round a local table? Why have they not called for Janette Bell – Managing Director First Bus to cone and explain herself? I oppose the closure of our bus depot that has been part of Bridgwater for many many years. I oppose any cuts to our important bus services . I call on Senior Somerset Councillors to get First around a table and sort this out for Bridgwater and our surrounding towns.”

Get Involved!

Cllr Tim Mander (Bridgwater Westover) added “The Bridgwater Bus Group is now part of the Bridgwater Transport Forum which the Town Council hosts and meet’s quarterly. If you are interested in supporting and promoting local buses please attend the next Transport Forum scheduled for Tuesday 19th September 2023.”

Trades Council leaflet

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Richard Morgan
7 months ago

Don’t forget to join the Bridgwater Aerea Bus Group if you care about buses in Bridgwater – find us on Facebook or email Cllrmorgan@bridgwater-tc.gov.uk to join the mailing list.

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