Rotala has agreed terms to purchase a seven-acre Bolton depot from First Manchester in a £5.3m deal that also includes the majority of First buses operating from the site.
The depot will become the North West headquarters of the Rotala Group, which by virtue of the acquisition will become the second largest player in the Greater Manchester bus market behind Stagecoach.
Already this year, First has agreed to sell off its Queens Road depot in Cheetham Hill, from which Go North West, a subsidiary of the Go-ahead Group, is now running services.
This second disposal leaves First’s Oldham base the main operating centre in a market from which it is retreating as potentially massive changes approach. The Greater Manchester Combined Authority will this week consider a report into bus reform in the city region that could see control of bus networks taken into public hands under powers allowed by the Bus Services Act 2017.
First will continue to operate existing services from the Bolton site until the sale is completed and customers should see no changes to their daily journeys. Vantage services will also continue to be operated by First Manchester.
The Bolton depot is capable of operating 200 vehicles and serving 18 commercial bus routes. Initially, Rotala will lease 125 vehicles from First to service the routes, with vehicles being replaced in a rolling programme over two years. Around 500 staff will transfer to Rotala.
John Gunn, chairman of Rotala, said: “This acquisition represents an exciting opportunity to expand significantly Rotala’s presence in the Greater Manchester bus market.
“The deal is an indicator of how the UK bus landscape is beginning to change. We can expect more divestment by the big bus groups in future years. Rotala aims to be a major player in these market developments in years to come.”
AIM-listed Rotala was established in 2005 and now carries 29m people a year with a fleet of 600 vehicles. The business has mostly acquired businesses and routes in the Birmingham area, also taking on several services round Heathrow.
Giles Fearnley, managing director of First Bus, said: “I’d like to thank our employees for their continued hard work to deliver the best experience possible for our customers in Greater Manchester.
“Today’s announcement does not reflect on the effort, commitment or individual performance of our Bolton employees and we will be supporting them fully as they transfer to their new employer.”