Costing £76 million and linking Wigan and Leigh with Salford and Manchester, the total length of the new, segregated concrete Busway is 13 miles, of which just four will physically guide buses along the route. However, this approximate one-third total length was enough to sufficiently worry members of the Greater Manchester Integrated Transport Authority (GMITA) that they visited the world's (delayed) longest guided busway in Cambridge to assess the likely problems and - more importantly - the potential cost of an overrun.
Back in Greater Manchester however, local councillors who collectively signed the Busway off as part of the GM Transport Fund, have been incensed at GMITA's interference. They saw the decision for a review into the cost of the Busway as the transport authority simply meddling, with a view to try and reduce the scheme or cancel it altogether. Common sense prevailed, when the review showed that the problems faced with the Cambridgeshire scheme - now 18 months late and almost £58 million over budget - are very local to that scheme and fundamentally resultant on the landscape of the Fenlands.
GMITA is the body who needs to ensure the £1.5bn package costs just that and so have been naturally cautious about their very own Busway, mindful that they don't want a 'Cambridgeshire' on their hands, so it is understandable that they'd want to delve a little deeper. One would hope that the Leigh area doesn't throw up its own problems, particular to that area that are as severe as persistent surface water and flooding are in Fenstanton.
The scheme first ran into trouble during the late-90s when the proposed route of the Busway was to pass through the breeding grounds of the Greater Crested Newt, which is a protected species. Local Salford councillors then caused a stink about the Busway a few years ago, claiming it was unnecessary and the millions of pounds needed to construct it would be better off providing additional bus services along the route. A view also exists that the Busway is merely a 'sop' to Wigan and Leigh residents whose towns are not included in the Metrolink extension.
However, it is very pleasing to see that the Cambridgeshire debacle isn't putting off new Busway schemes. There are a number in the pipeline elsewhere in the UK. Should they survive the Spending Review later this month, it will be interesting to see whether their local authorities will have the conviction to go ahead.
Leigh Busway Project (pdf)
Cambridgeshire Guided Busway (brief details & map)