PLANS to unlock development opportunities in the Southern Gateway following the relocation of the bus depot as part of a £10 million scheme are edging closer.

The proposed new bus depot was granted planning consent by the development management committee in July 2019.

The move, from Bridge Foot to Dallam Lane, will open up the existing site for development.

The Labour-run council has been seeking to appoint a contractor to undertake the construction work on the new facility, which will be occupied by Warrington’s Own Buses (WOB).

The issue came before the cabinet during its Town Hall meeting on Monday.

On completion of the new depot, the council will grant a lease of 125 years to WOB and simultaneously the ownership of the existing site in the Southern Gateway area – buildings and land – will transfer into the council’s ownership.

Once WOB has relocated to the new depot and starts operating from it, the existing depot will be demolished and the site’s redevelopment progressed as part of the agreed Southern Gateway masterplan, subject to ‘available development funding at the time’.

WOB will pay a market rent for the bus depot as this is felt to be the ‘most appropriate relationship’ between the council and WOB, and will also assist in ensuring that the project is compliant with subsidy control regulations.

In his report, Cllr Hans Mundry, cabinet member for transportation, highways and public realm, says the relocation of the bus depot is the first step to unlocking the development opportunities in the Southern Gateway regeneration area and in achieving the long-standing regeneration ambitions of the council.

The report confirmed the estimated cost of moving the bus depot including the fit-out, demolition and remediation of the current site, professional fees and development management fees, contingencies and all costs to date was estimated at the pre-tender stage to be £9.963 million.

The total external grant funding totals £7.032 million. The council is required to provide gap funding of around £2.93 million and a further five per cent of the full project cost as a contingency.

The cabinet awarded the contract for the work.

Furthermore, the cabinet gave the green light to proposals to develop and approve the borough’s bus service improvement plan, as required by the national bus strategy, in advance of the Department for Transport deadline of October 31.

Members also backed plans to make a bid for, and accept, grant funding from the Government totalling £5.575 million, as part of the wider £22.1 million Warrington Town Deal for the sustainable travel package, as well as delegating authority to the director of environment and transport and director of corporate services to oversee and approve the business case documents of the sustainable travel package.

During the meeting on Monday, Cllr Maureen McLaughlin, cabinet member for public health and wellbeing, said the Government could provide the funding Warrington needs to reduce its fares and get more buses on the road if it wanted to.

She said: “There are decisions that are made nationally that have affected buses up and down the country for years and years and years.

“When you look at places like London, they have a wonderful service, so let’s make sure we get this funding.”

Cllr Mundry said Warrington would have an ‘untouchable’ service if it had the same ‘funding regime’ as London, adding ‘we get a lot less funding’ than the major cities.

Meanwhile, council leader Cllr Russ Bowden said ‘we’ve got to entice people’ back onto the buses.