Blackpool Transport facing legal action from manufacturer Wrightbus over zero emission bus order

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A dispute has broken out in relation to the procurement process

Blackpool Transport is facing legal action over its order for new zero-emission buses as part of a Government-backed scheme.

The council-owned company plans to introduce 115 new buses to its fleet after receiving £20m from the Department for Transport’s Zero Emission Bus Regional Area (ZEBRA) fund in 2022.

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The Wrightbus electric bus being tested in Blackpool in 2022The Wrightbus electric bus being tested in Blackpool in 2022
The Wrightbus electric bus being tested in Blackpool in 2022 | Blackpool Transport

The fund was first announced in 2021 to help local transport authorities outside London introduce zero-emission buses and the infrastructure needed to support them.

A report by the Sunday Times says one of the aims of the fund was to support 'buy British' but half the buses benefiting from the fund are being produced overseas including in China. Jo Bamford, owner of Northern Ireland bus manufacturer Wrightbus, is reported to have launched a legal battle with Blackpool Transport over the issue.

In August 2022, Blackpool Transport tested the zero-emission rapid-charge StreetDeck Electroliner - the first-ever EV from Wrightbus - in the resort.

Blackpool Transport is reportedly being sued over the procurement process that, according to the Sunday Times, initially resulted in Chinese bus brand Yutong being awarded a contract. The contract was subsequently switched to the Falkirk-based Alexander Dennis, which has been a long-term supplier of buses to Blackpool Transport.

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Council documents which set out the procurement process say the contract would be awarded in line with the council's competitive tendering rules.

The council has also lent Blackpool Transport £8m from its Business Loans fund to upgrade the Rigby Road depot with the infrastructure required for electric buses including charging points. Switching to electric buses will reduce running costs, improve air quality and help the council achieve its target of net zero carbon emissions by 2030.

Blackpool Council, which undertook the procurement on behalf of its wholly owned company Blackpool Transport, said it could not comment on the legal action.

According to the Sunday Times report, half of the zero-emission vehicles benefiting from the ZEBRA programme across the country are being made in China and overseas. It said government figures show 953 buses have been ordered with 470 orders going to Wrightbus and Alexander Dennis. The remaining half were spread among Yutong of China, Volvo of Sweden, the German company Mercedes and Irizar of Spain.

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