HYTHE Ferry will be given £45,000 to help ensure the service stays afloat this winter after it was badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
Lee Rayment, managing director of operator Blue Funnell Ferries, said confirmation New Forest District, Hampshire County and Southampton City councils would each pledge £15,000 towards the business was “splendid news”.
Thanking HCC for “pushing it through”, he also sounded a note of caution: “It’s survival money that will help us get through the winter. People are still not working and we are taking a lot of tourists at the moment but as we get to the winter we will have some very hard times.”
Mr Rayment said wages were his “biggest outlay” and he also faced having to refit the vessel, while current demand for the service did not justify increasing its timetable to normal.
But he was optimistic it would survive until spring and hoped the service could be given more help, noting a recently announced vision to transform the Waterside included a pledge to improve alternative transport routes and methods to reduce congestion on the A326.
NFDC revealed the ferry lost £49,000 during the pandemic, and its annual passenger numbers were less than 200,000. The grant will be funded from the pot of developers’ contributions NFDC holds for Hythe, which currently stands at just over £21,000.
A passenger ferry service has run between Hythe and Southampton since 1887, but HCC dropped its revenue subsidy for it in 2018/19. The only payment it now makes covers the pontoon landing charges at Town Quay, which is the result of a historical legal agreement.
Cllr Edward Heron, NFDC’s cabinet member for planning and infrastructure, said bus operators had received help during the pandemic, such as concessionary fares reimbursement. “Hythe Ferry plays an important role in facilitating transport on the waterside,” he added.
The council added: “The joint funding by the three authorities will give the ferry company short-term cashflow to ensure the service remains viable for a period while passenger numbers are lower than normal.
“At this stage no one is able to predict when numbers will return to a level that makes the service viable.”
In May, a fundraising initiative to help Hythe ferry received more than £5,000 in donations