South Yorkshire Mayor election 2022: 'Dreadful' bus service dominates agenda as candidate face public at first hustings

The race to become South Yorkshire’s next elected mayor has formally kicked off as candidates faced questions from the public.

By George Torr, Local Democracy Reporter
Thursday, 7th April 2022, 2:11 pm

Run by community campaigning organisation ACORN, candidates from Labour, Green Party, Yorkshire Party and Liberal Democrats answered questions on on a range of topics.

The hustings organisers said they could not reach the Conservative candidate and the Social Democratic Party candidate had only just announced their intention to run.

In their opening address to around 50 people at St Mary’s Church off Bramall Lane, each candidate started off addressing how they would tackle the problems of public transport.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

(L-R) Simon Biltcliffe - Yorkshire Party, Oliver Coppard - Labour, Joe Otten -Liberal Democrats and Bex Whyman - Green Party. Credit: George Torr/LDRS

Oliver Coppard – Labour

“When I was selected as the candidate, the first thing I said was that I want to bring buses back into public control.

“It’s not just fundamental to our economy but also to our net zero goals and our health and wellbeing.

“So you shouldn’t be able to just get about this region properly if you have a car, you should be able to get on a bus and get where you want to go.

The candidates chat to a resident after the hustings is over. Credit: George Torr/LDRS

“I was out in Thorne in Doncaster recently and a man who is suffering from cancer told me about his horrendous journey to Weston Park Hospital.

“We need to sort problems like this and if I’m elected, I will work every single day and do everything I can to bring them back into public control.

“But I need to be honest with you. Right now, there is not the money to make that happen and we have to make some choices. But we need to campaign to the government for them to give us the resources we need to have a world class system.

“We shouldn’t be having to choose between the cost of living and having a public transport system that works.”

Oliver Coppard, Labour.

Joe Otten – Liberal Democrats

“I’m slightly baffled by that last answer because the current mayor, three and half years on, has only just started the franchising process despite promising to do it straight away.

“I’m slightly concerned now if Oliver is elected he might not carry this through.

“I think there is money for it because there’s money on the table. If you control the bus network, you can subsidise the unprofitable routes with the profitable ones and reduce the areas where there are too many buses because there’s multiple operators competing on the same route.

Simon Biltcliffe, Yorkshire Party.

South Yorkshire was one of the first places to get a city deal and from being at the head of the queue in terms of devolution, we’ve not kicked on because local leaders haven’t got their act together and haven’t cooperated.

“Sheffield and Rotherham couldn’t agree with Doncaster and Barnsley early on. I think it’s time to vote for something different and for a change.

“If Greater Manchester and bring buses back then so can South Yorkshire.”

Bex Whyman – Green Party

“I can completely agree with what Oliver and Joe have said but what I don’t agree with is the Labour councils and mayor have missed out on hundreds of millions of pounds worth of bus funding this week.

“The funding is there but we’re not doing enough to claim that. We could’ve had it but we didn’t do enough to claim the money.

Joe Otten, Liberal Democrats.

“If I was elected mayor, I would make sure that we get all the money that comes available to us so we don’t have to choose between something else and properly fund our buses. This is about public ownership as well as public control.”

Simon Biltcliffe – Yorkshire Party

“We are a devolutionist party for a very good reason. As Bex said, South Yorkshire didn’t get any of the £430 million that we asked for buses.

“The famous quote of the definition of madness is doing the same thing time after time and expecting a different outcome.

“The challenge that you’ve got without a proper devolved parliament in Yorkshire is that we’re always forgotten about. None of these people who are voted in are probably going to use a bus.

“If you look from Sheffield to Manchester, we’ve got two cart tracks to get across. Buses need roads like everything else. It’s those kinds of decisions we get from Westminster that are holding back all of us.

“From quality of life to social mobility is made harder by poor public transport. Don’t forget that 25 per cent of households don’t have a car and it’s the people who are the least well off in society that need the buses most.

“For social cohesion, social mobility, productivity, accessing employment, these are really important things and they are not factored into the decisions.

“For some bureaucrat in London to decide that South Yorkshire isn’t deserving of a penny in franchising bus routes – it’s appalling. We know how much it’s needed.

“Yorkshire being a region with more people in Scotland needs better representation.”

On a question around housing and rent controls, Lib Dem Joe Otten said he didn’t agree with the policy but there were things that could be done to raise the standards of bad landlords through selective licensing. He added the mayor had powers to build better, more energy efficient homes.

Bex Whyman from the Green Party said as a renter herself, the ‘only thing that talks is money’ and there was a ‘huge amount of pressure on tenants’ who can be turfed out within two months’ notice.

Oliver Coppard said he was happy to talk to ACORN around rent controls but added the mayor does not have its own devolved housing budget. Coppard also said there were a million homes where planning permission had been granted but the land was being held back by the developer.

Yorkshire Party’s Simon Biltcliffe said housing is a ‘fundamental human right’ and that South Yorkshire needed better housing standards than the region currently. He added that landlords should be made to work more closely with tenants to help with the cost of living crisis.

The full list of candidates are:

David Bettney – SDPSimon Biltcliffe – Yorkshire PartyOliver Coppard – LabourJoe Otten – Liberal DemocratsClive Watkinson – ConservativeBex Whyman – Green Party

Bex Whyman, Green Party. Credit: George Torr/LDRS