HOPES are fading for Weymouth to secure Condor Ferries’ services.

It comes as the company confirmed it would be buying a larger and faster super-ferry to replace its existing vessels after being given the green light to apply for a long-term operating licence to sail from the UK to the Channel Islands.

It is a major development for the company which has been locked in discussions with the States of Jersey and Guernsey for a year on how services can best meet the islands’ needs. Confidence in the future is allowing Condor to now move on purchasing the Austal 102, a 102-metre trimaran, capable of taking 245 cars and between 950 and 1,165 passengers.

Condor hopes to bring the vessel into service next spring.

The possibility of it operating from Poole instead of Weymouth is becoming more likely.Condor has said it wants to stay in Weymouth but berth 1 near the Stone Pier – the only suitable place for it to go – will have to be upgraded to accommodate the larger ferry at a cost of £10m – money Weymouth and Portland Borough Council doesn’t have.

Attempts at securing financial support directly from the government and through a Local Enterprise Partnership bid have both failed. Most of the LEP funding for Dorset announced last week is going to east Dorset – including the Port of Poole.

Borough council spokesman for Corporate Affairs and Continuous Improvement Mike Byatt said the authority’s position hadn’t changed and it was unable to make any financial contribution to the works, although it would continue to investigate funding through the LEP as part of an overall town centre masterplan.

Cllr Byatt said he was ‘delighted’ Condor had resolved issues regarding the Channel Islands and its new vessel, and that discussions would continue over the implications for Weymouth.

He added: “Condor Ferries may be able to identify some money in their business plan for work on Weymouth harbour walls.

“We are not in a position to bring forward any capital.”

South Dorset MP Richard Drax, who set up a meeting to try and secure government funds, said: “I think everyone hopes the ferry service will be retained for the sake of the economy, tourism, and the historic significance of having a link with the Channel Islands.

“But if £10 million can’t be found there’s going to be a problem and regrettably the ferry will go elsewhere, presumably to Poole.

“If it does go the council may well fight on to see if a berth can be provided in future.”

Alistair Clarke from Weymouth Business Improvement District (BID) said: “It would be a blow for Weymouth if Condor left.”

Applying for new licence

CONDOR Ferries said it would be applying for a new long-term licence (10 years) to operate ferries to and from the Channel Islands following an announcement by officials in the Islands.

In addition, Condor will introduce the Islands’ Economic and Community Investment Programme (IECIP).

The proposed new licence allows for a competitor operator to enter the market so long as it matches the ‘full service’ of sailings which Condor offers, on a level playing field.

The certainty which the new licence arrangements offer will enable Condor to confirm its purchase of the Austal 102.

Condor chief executive James Fulford said: “The 102 will offer increased reliability, capacity and comfort.”

He added: “We have not asked our Islands, or anyone else, for a subsidy for this purchase. However, in order to make this significant investment, we have always said we need the certainty of a new operating licence.

“I am delighted that we are a step closer to achieving that certainty and investing in a new ship which will secure the future of high speed ferry services for our Islands.”