FERRY operator Wightlink has poured cold water on hopes of increasing ferries between Lymington and Yarmouth to boost the region’s economy.
More regular crossings have been listed as part of a transport plan for the south east, alongside previously announced multi-million pound road projects such as the A326 expansion on the Waterside.
The idea of additional ferries from Lymington was welcomed by the New Forest District Council’s Cabinet Member for Planning, Regeneration and Infrastructure, Cllr Diane Andrews, and the Town Mayor Cllr James Hoare.
But operator Wightlink has warned that without additional revenue it could not afford to grow.
The Combined Plans recently won the backing of Cllr Andrews in response to a draft Strategic Investment Plan for the South East, compiled by Transport for the South East (TFSE), a group of local authorities and businesses.
TFSE was created in 2017 to determine the transport infrastructure needed and to ensure close alignment between local and national government on longer term planning and delivery.
Cllr Andrews said the NFDC ‘welcomes and supports’, in principle, proposals in both the New Forest district and the rest of South Hampshire, including improved connectivity to the Isle of Wight .
The plan calls for increased operating hours and frequency of ferries from Lymington to Yarmouth, which is run by Wightlink.
Cllr Hoare also backed the idea, who told A&T he “wholeheartedly” supports an increase in ferry frequency.
He said: “The later ferries would have a positive impact on our local economy when they are needed most and it is unfortunate that the schedules have become less frequent in recent years.
“The West Solent deserves a much better service compared to the 24 hour route run by Red Funnel to Cowes.”
But a Wightlink spokesperson told A&T: “[The plan] rightly notes that all ferry operators across the Solent are private commercial entities and states that any additional service should be funded from ticket revenue.
“Wightlink’s only source of funding is ticket revenue and it can only expand its services when projected ticket revenue will cover its costs.
“At present, demand for services on the Lymington-Yarmouth route is below pre-Covid levels and would not support expansion.
“Hopefully demand will increase to a point where additional services become viable and Wightlink will keep this under review.”
The overall strategy also highlights the proposed reopening of the Waterside passenger railway, and it noted improvements to the A326 and A31 at Ringwood which are already underway.
As reported in the A&T, Network Rail recently conducted a month-long consultation on reopening the nine-mile branch line.
HCC recently embarked on an improvement program on the southern section of the A326, between Dibden and Fawley, to increase traffic capacity ahead of the 1,500 housing development of Fawley Waterside and Solent Freeport.
Multimillion-pound improvements to the A31, which include creating three lanes in each direction as well as replacing bridges for westbound traffic, are due to be completed in November.