CAMPAIGNERS for the future of Hythe ferry have been celebrating after the operator agreed to hand them ownership of the 138-year-old pier.
The agreement between Blue Funnel and the Hythe Pier Heritage Association was marked with a ceremony at the historic structure off Prospect Place.
A formal contract is expected to be signed later to enable the 640-metre feature to be developed into a community facility and preserve the oldest pier train in the world.
An immediate fundraising target of £250,000 has been set as part of an overall estimated budget of £2.8m.
As reported in the A&T, the service between Hythe and Town Quay in Southampton was nearly axed by its previous owner, White Horse, before being bought out in early 2017.
Association chair Peter King said: “This was not just a symbolic gesture, this was the culmination of a genuine commitment by Blue Funnel and months of hard work by the volunteers in this new community group who from a standing start have demonstrated their ability to make a difference.
“Of course, in a way we have only just begun. There are still details to be agreed and many operational arrangements to resolve.
“But we do now have the opportunity to start the project and take the first steps to protect and preserve the pier, before we move on to restore and redevelop the buildings and structures to create a vibrant community facility for public benefit in the years ahead.”
He added: “Now the real work begins, and we will need even more support so please watch out for more announcements in the coming months to see how you can become part of this community project.”
The association has relaunched as a charitable community benefit society to help it raise money.
Its next step will be to recruit a full-time project development manager to steer a planned five-year restoration scheme.
Dibden and Hythe Cllr Malcolm Wade said: “I think both Blue Funnel and the heritage association have an excellent working relationship, and I think this move will strengthen and help secure the future of both the ferry and the pier.
“I wish to pay tribute to both organisations for working together like this, and in particular the tremendous efforts of the local people of the Hythe Pier Heritage Association for their ongoing work to save the pier for future generations.”
Blue Funnel said in a statement on the day of the handover: “Today marks 140 years since a licence to build a ‘light pier’ was given, at a cost of £7,000.
“Today we announced that Blue Funnel Ferries Ltd, the Hythe ferry, will be donating the Hythe pier to the Hythe Pier Heritage Association charitable trust. This allows works to commence on the pier and secure the future of the pier for many years to come.”