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Sovereign takeover clearance

THE COMPETITION Commission has provisionally cleared the takeover by Arriva of Blazefield’s Sovereign Bus & Coach business in Hertfordshire. The deal was referred to the Competition Commission by the Office of Fair Trading in August.

In its provisional findings the inquiry group (by a majority of three to two) concludes that the merger will not lead to a substantial lessening of bus competition in the area.

Diana Guy, chairman of the inquiry group, says: “Evidently it has been a close decision but on balance the majority of the group has provisionally concluded that the merger will not substantially lessen competition for either commercial or tendered bus services.

“We were all agreed that there are few overlaps on commercial routes where Arriva and Sovereign are in direct competition. Several parties explained to us that Hertfordshire was ‘not good bus territory’ and as such had a limited attraction for potential new entrants. The majority did not feel that this position would be affected by the merger.

“The minority view was that the merger would result in the loss of a significant competitive constraint on Arriva from Sovereign whether under its present management or any alternative owner. The lack of suitable depot facilities would also deter market entry.”

Sovereign has 45 buses, 133 employees and depots in Stevenage and Hatfield. It operates commercial and tendered services in and around the Stevenage area and also operates interurban services linking Stevenage, Hitchin, Hatfield, Welwyn Garden City, St Albans and Hemel Hempstead.

The sale – expected to be concluded in January - brings to an end a slow process of withdrawal from the south of England by Blazefield.

Earlier this year most of Sovereign’s services in St Albans were taken over by Centrebus, and the Huntingdon & District business was sold to Cavalier Travel in November last year. Blazefield quit London in 2002 with the sale of London Sovereign to Transdev.

The group is now focussed on the north of England, with long-established businesses in Keighley, Harrogate and Malton, and the former Stagecoach operations in Burnley and Blackburn.



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