As First announces it is ending its bus operations in the area, Stagecoach steps into the breach.

STAGECOACH is to expand its bus services in North Devon following news First Devon and Cornwall is to leave the area.

The announcement came a day after First said it was to discontinue its bus services in the North Devon area and close its closure Barnstaple depot.

The companies had agreed a £2.8 million deal for Stagecoach to buy out First’s North Devon operation, but when the Office of Fair Trading referred it to the Competition Commission the deal fell through.

Stagecoach said yesterday (Wednesday) it would be running a new expanded service from its Barnstaple depot, with around a dozen more buses and recruiting new drivers.

Job losses

First meanwhile said it had started the consultation process with trade unions on the possibility of redundancies.

It is thought the First depot closure could mean the loss of up to 100 jobs.

Extra services

From Monday, September 24, Stagecoach intends to introduce new or extended services it says will provide ‘vital bus links’ in the region.

These include an hourly Service X7 express direct service between South Molton and Barnstaple; the Service X9 link between Bude, Holsworthy, Okehampton and Exeter, with services running approximately every two hours; Service 21 will now operate between Westward Ho!, Bideford, Instow Quay, Fremington, Barnstaple, Braunton, and Ilfracombe; Service 21A will now operate between Appledore, Bideford, East-the-Water, Fremington, Barnstaple and Braunton.

Other measures include: A 20 minute daytime service from Westward Ho!, Bideford and Barnstaple to Ilfracombe with a 30 min evening and Sunday service.

More links from Ilfracombe to Barnstaple Railway Station, particularly during evenings and on Sundays.

A 10 min service between Northam, Bideford, Barnstaple and Braunton, with a 30 min evening and Sunday service.

A 20 min daytime service from Braunton, Barnstaple and Bideford to Appledore and a new hourly evening and Sunday service which extends to Ilfracombe.

Michelle Hargreaves, managing director of Stagecoach South West said the agreement with First would have allowed them to provide a more comprehensive network, but the company could not justify further management time and expense pursuing it, following the decision to refer ‘a relatively small transaction’ to the Competition Commission.

“Instead we have registered new commercial services that will extend our network in the North Devon area and provide more journey options,” she added.

‘Under-performed’

First said its bus services in North Devon had under-performed for a number of years, despite marketing and promotional efforts.

Giles Fearnley, FirstGroup managing director, UK Bus, said they understood the news would be distressing for employees and would cause concern to customers.

“We apologise and will be supporting affected employees over the coming months, as well as working with Devon County Council on the future of bus services in the area,” he said.

“We will give customers ample notice of the date services will cease to operate in North Devon.

“We will be working hard to minimise the extent of redundancies, trying to redeploy people where possible. We would like to stress the decision is a business driven one and does not reflect on the effort or individual performance of the employees in North Devon.”