COUNCIL chiefs are hoping Condor Ferries can keep sailing from Weymouth even if the authority cannot provide a berth for a larger ship the firm wants to buy.

Weymouth and Portland Borough Council says it is in 'productive discussions' with the States of Jersey and Guernsey about the cross-channel ferry link between the Channel Islands and Weymouth.

Condor is waiting to hear from the States on a decision about a new 10-year operating licence. If the ferry company gets the green light, it will unlock investment to buy a £50m high-speed Austal 102 trimaran.

Whether it operates from Weymouth depends on the council coming up with £10m to upgrade berth 1.

The borough council says it does not have the money but continues to explore external funding while also examining other options.

But if Condor switched to Poole, the council hopes an existing Condor Ferries' vessel can sail from Weymouth as well.

Council spokesman for Corporate Affairs and Continuous Improvement Cllr Mike Byatt said: “Condor has always stated its preference is to sail from Weymouth as the distance and time it takes to cross the channel is less.

“It is our understanding that Condor has three other catamarans in operation, one of which works the routes to France and has at least seven years operation left in it, and two others that currently service Weymouth and Poole, however we are unaware of the service life left in these. We will continue discussions with Condor to see whether these vessels could continue to operate from berth three alongside operating the new vessel from Poole Harbour if we cannot find external funding for the new berth.

“These are complex commercial negotiations, but we are in regular dialogue with Condor and now the Channel Islands, to understand the implications for Weymouth.”

Cllr Byatt said the council would continue to look at all options available, including if Condor decide it no longer wishes to operate from Weymouth.

He said: “We will be working on plans for the peninsula site should Condor decide not to continue to run a ferry service from Weymouth.

“We will continue to assess the business case for Condor's continuation alongside the business case for the development of the peninsula as part of our strategic economic vision. We will endeavour to make the best decision in the interests of the borough and its residents.”

Condor: 'We will support the council'

CHIEF Executive of Condor Ferries James Fulford said: “Despite having spent over £10m in the last two years maintaining our fleet of high speed ferries, they are becoming increasingly expensive and difficult to maintain. The Austal 102 will improve reliability, because it is able to cope with much higher seas and will be more technically reliable, and will give our guests a much greater level of comfort.”

He added: “Weymouth is the historic and natural gateway to the Channel Islands, however we can only operate from ports where it is safe to do so and where the berthing facilities are fit for purpose.

“Condor Ferries enjoys a long-standing and constructive working relationship with the council, and we are both committed to working together in the most professional way.

“We've been very clear that we will support the council as the issues regarding funding, regulation and legislative become clearer, and we have not ruled out a contribution to the cost of the works.”