The Viking Bus Station building should be sold to an unnamed “local business interest”, it was agreed at a meeting of the council’s environment and transport committee today.
Bus users would see little initial difference to the service and would eventually see an improvement, councillors were told.
The SIC is proposing to erect shelters at the stances and creating a cafe in the building is another possibility being explored.
However the freight centre at the station, largely used by hauliers from the North Isles, may be moved to Gremista.
If the sale goes ahead, the council will save almost £94,000 per year.
All councillors welcomed the potential sale apart from North Isles member Robert Henderson, who queried why millions could be “thrown at Mareel”, yet the council could not keep open the bus station.
Chairman Allan Wishart said the council had a “strong desire to make a go of it”. He said the SIC wanted to see more private businesses offering services, and this was a demonstration of this.
The meeting heard that the bus station comprises two elements – the bus terminus and hardstanding, and the adjacent two-storey building. The top floor of this building is let out to the Great Wall Chinese restaurant and this is unaffected by the proposals.
The lower floor provides a passenger waiting area and left luggage lockers and shelves. There are also toilets and space for small loose freight. Around a third of the lower floorspace is used a rural freight centre for commercial goods going to country areas.
Infrastructure chief Phil Crossland, speaking at his last council meeting before leaving to take up a post in Leicestershire Council, said that the local business was “keen” to take over the bus station, and was waiting for the go-ahead from council members. He said: “I’m very, very positive it will come to fruition and will provide a better service to the public.”
To avoid the risk of it being bought and then sold on, there would be a “buy-back” clause in the sale in which the SIC would have first refusal.
Councillor Theo Smith, said he feared the bus station would close and there would be “chaos for months” during the takeover, but Mr Crossland insisted it would stay open until the deal is signed. If refurbishment is necessary, the council would “work closely with the new owner.”
Although Mr Crossland conceded that the three main hauliers who use the freight centre would prefer to retain the Viking Bus Station, they could possibly work from a “shed” in Gremista, given that the present business model at the station was “unsustainable”. The shed would be unmanned and hauliers could be given swipe cards to gain entry. The station would continue to handle small freight.
One part of the bus station that will certainly be scrapped is the lift. A survey of bus station usage during a six-day period in March revealed that only five people used it, all on one day – on the other five days it was not used at all.
Mr Crossland said lifts were expensive to maintain, especially as engineers have to come up from south.
Other data from the survey period revealed that more than 100 people had used the shelves and lockers, 263 had used the toilets, 214 had used the freight service, 66 required help from staff and 262 had used the waiting room.