HYTHE ferry will not survive without the support of public funding, its owner has warned, as he pleaded with Southampton City Council to replace nearly £155,000 cut by the county.
Blue Funnel managing director Lee Rayment, who saved the service by buying it from White Horse in 2017, issued the caution as a two-year subsidy deal with HCC ends in April.
Writing to Southampton City Council (SCC) leader, Cllr Chris Hammond with an appeal for help, Mr Rayment said the ferry was “an essential part of getting cars off the roads, and hence reducing traffic on our already struggling highways.
“But as it stands, it will not survive without support from someone.”
He urged the ferry to be included in Southampton’s Green City Charter, which is being drawn up to set out the authority’s environmental strategy.
Cllr Rob Humby, HCC cabinet member for environment and transport, decided in October last year to end the ferry’s two-year deal for an annual £77,250 as part of more than £1.1m of public transport subsidy cuts.
At the time, Mr Rayment told the A&T the loss “could have an impact on the operations, but hopefully in a minor way”.
But now he fears for the future of the “essential link” which he said in the letter had received £40,000 of investment, including a spare boat. Passengers had risen 12.2% to over 195,000 journeys.
He added: “Unfortunately, we have recently lost the subsidy from Hampshire County Council, which we had arranged before the purchase of the business.
“This is a real setback for us and is likely to push us to the edges of viable operation.
“Cutting our timetable does not save a tremendous amount of money. If people arrive and are unaware of the ferry times, miss the boat by a few minutes, they will not wait. They will catch the bus.”
Last year Hythe and Dibden councillor Malcom Wade, a Liberal Democrat, said that ending the HCC payment would be a “disastrous move”.
Mr Rayment’s letter came just weeks after the Hythe Pier Heritage Association, which has campaigned to preserve the service to Southampton, was handed ownership of the 138-year-old structure in Prospect Place from which the ferry embarks.
Cllr Hammond said: “I have just recently received the letter and will be arranging a discussion with Blue Funnel Ferries Ltd on the challenges they face on funding now that Hampshire County Council have withdrawn their subsidy.
“We will work in partnership with a wide range of businesses, community groups and residents locally as part of our commitment to delivering the Green City Charter.”
SCC said Mr Rayment had accepted an invitation to a Green City Charter stakeholder event on Monday where he will be able to put his case to council representatives.