WEYMOUTH is being held to ‘ransom’ by Condor Ferries which could abandon the town and move operations elsewhere.
The borough is reeling from news that the resort could lose cross-Channel ferry services unless £10m is spent on making a harbour berth fit for purpose to accommodate a new, larger vessel.
It comes after Weymouth and Portland Borough Council spent more than £4million repairing another berth so Condor could return last year.
News of the latest position came after councillors were shown a report detailing the situation.
Condor has rejected using the refurbished No 3 berth due to the size of the new vessel and instead favours No 1 berth.
If work on No1 berth went ahead, it is understood Condor would switch sailings to Poole for a year from 2015.
Councillors and community leaders are appalled at the news and feel that Condor Ferries should continue a ferry operation from Weymouth, rather than rely on the cash-strapped council to come up with further funding.
Council director of resources Jason Vaughan said the authority was doing ‘all it could to try and positively resolve the issue’.
It comes as the Dorset Echo launches a petition in a bid to persuade bosses at Condor Ferries to confirm its commitment to Weymouth.
Readers are being urged to put their name to the petition. Click here to sign it.
Mayor of Weymouth and Portland Ray Banham said he felt the town was being held to ransom by Condor.
He added: “I’m shocked by the news, as most of the people of Weymouth and Portland are.”
He said the money to sort out No 1 berth was ‘money the council didn’t have’.
Cllr Banham said he understood Condor saves around £1million a year in sailing from Weymouth rather than Poole and that it benefited both the company and the local area.
He added: “We want to work with Condor, we want to keep them.
“I think both parties have to get their heads together to come to an agreement to get the work done.”
Tourism spokesman for the council Ian Bruce said: “Condor said they wanted to come back and when they did everything was working very well and now they turn round and say they want to do something differently.
“The best thing Condor can do is to start talking to us about the future and not playing a game where they think we will jump through hoops because it’s not going to happen.”
Cllr Bruce suggested if Condor operated its bigger vessel from Poole it could still sail a smaller catamaran from Weymouth. The ferry operation is worth millions to the economy and the area was hit hard when the company moved operations to Poole.
South Dorset MP Richard Drax said he will be investigating.
He said the loss of Condor would be a ‘serious blow’, adding: “I’m confident everyone is doing everything they can to ensure the business stays with us.”
President of the Weymouth and Portland Chamber of Commerce Julie Cleaver said that she didn’t want to see Condor go but the £10million investment had to be carefully considered. She added: “I don’t want them to go but at the same time we do need to look at it very carefully.”
Members of the chamber had suggested that Portland Port could be used as an alternative to Weymouth for Condor’s sailings, Mrs Cleaver said.
That is a suggestion also put forward by manager of the Business Improvement District (BID) Nigel Reed. He said clearly Condor wanted a bigger site but that it would be difficult for the borough council to afford the £10million.
He said: “Therefore the question could be asked, would Portland Port be more suitable for this?”
No-one at Portland Port was available for comment.
- Cllr Ian Bruce has asked us to make it clear that he did not release any confidential information into the public domain when he was quoted in an Echo article about Condor on Thursday.
HOTELIERS IN SHOCK AT FERRY FIRM'S BOMBSHELL
HOTELIERS have spoke of their shock that Weymouth may lose Condor again.
Sue Mortimore of the Alexandra Hotel, who put up a banner for Condor’s return last year, said: “I’ll have to get the banner back out.
“It is a no-no – you don’t want to lose the service from here.
“People shouldn’t underestimate the amount of business that the town gets from that ferry.”
She added: “I see the cars coming off there – I know they have been busy this March and April.
“It is worrying that we could lose it. I thought, from what they said, that when they came back they would be here for a few years.”
She said the threat ‘could be a bullying tactic’ used by Condor to make the council take action, but that questions needed to be asked of the council as to how this situation came to be in the first place.
Mrs Mortimore she didn’t know whether Condor setting sail out of Portland could be an option because of the difficulty in getting to the port.
She added: “It’s a lot easier to come into Weymouth. There is just one road in to Portland.
“Weymouth is ideal for everybody.”
Sandra Reay, of The Channel Guest House, said: “I think it’s awful.
“Having Condor is a real boon to the town – not only for the hoteliers but for all of the town.
“The contribution that people who are using the ferry make to the economy is wonderful.
“We get people staying here who are going on the ferry, coming back from using the ferry, the engineers working on the ferry and the trainees.”
SIGN ECHO PETITION TO KEEP CONDOR IN PORT
READERS are invited to sign an Echo petition in a bid to keep Condor in Weymouth. Click here to sign the petition.
It calls on the firm to confirm its commitment to the town in light of revelations that its future in the town is uncertain amid plans to replace its existing vessels.
You can sign the petition either at dorsetecho. co.uk or add your name to copies which have been placed in local retailers selling the Echo.
COMEBACK WELCOMED BY BOROUGH
CONDOR made its long-awaited return to Weymouth last July after a 17-month absence.
The ferry operator switched its cross-Channel sailings to Poole due to a crumbling ferry berth at Weymouth quay.
The berth was fixed over the winter of 2012 in a project costing Weymouth and Portland Borough Council £4.47million.
Residents and holidaymakers were at the quayside last July to welcome the ferry back.
Condor revealed at the time that more than 70,000 people had already booked to travel through Weymouth.
Speaking when the ferry returned, chairman of the Weymouth harbour board Dominic Lonsdale said: “Condor’s return is all part of having a working harbour with a real variety, from a large vessel like Condor Vitesse to even the smallest of fishing boats.”
Condor is Weymouth port’s biggest customer and contributes more than £7million a year to the local economy.