CONDOR Ferries has confirmed it will leave Weymouth next spring.
Its new larger high-speed ferry, the Austal 102, will sail from Poole instead after Weymouth’s Port was deemed unsuitable and required £10 million worth of investment to make it viable.
However, Condor has said that the arrangement with Poole Harbour is a ‘medium-term’ arrangement to allow Weymouth and Portland Borough Council time to outline its plans for the port.
Condor will continue to operate the Vitesse vessel from Weymouth until Easter next year. The Austal will replace the Vitesse and Condor Express on a single sailing from the UK to the Channel Islands.
The company told Weymouth and Portland Borough Council earlier this year that £10million was required to refurbish Berth 1 at the harbour to allow the Austal to continue the cross-Channel ferry service.
The request came after the council spent £4million refurbishing the crumbling Berth 3 to allow Condor to return to the town but the company said the refurbished berth was unsuitable for the larger ferry.
If work to refurbish the berth did take place, it would be a minimum of two years from 2015 that Condor could return to Weymouth.
The news of Condor’s departure for Weymouth has been greeted with dismay by local residents and business leaders, with calls for the council to look elsewhere for ferry operators to sail from the harbour.
Others have said that this will give the council a clean slate in seeking a better future for Weymouth.
Councillor Mike Byatt, chairman of the management committee at Weymouth and Portland Borough Council, said: “This is news we have been aware of for some time that Condor Ferries has bought a new vessel that cannot fit into Weymouth Harbour meaning they may not be able to operate from Weymouth in the short term.
“This does, however, need to be set in the context of the town centre masterplan. We are developing a strategic vision for the future of the town over the next 10 years and as part of that we are looking at all the options regarding the peninsula site including whether they continue to operate from Weymouth or not.
“The borough council has already agreed it cannot afford to invest the £10 million required to upgrade the harbour to accommodate the bigger vessel, but we can help Condor look at other investment options including applications for Local Enterprise Partnership funding.
“We understand this is a commercial decision for Condor and will continue to have discussions with them about their medium and long term future operations.”
Condor has invested £50million into its fleet and the new state-of-the-art vessel will come into service in spring 2015.
James Fulford, Condor chief executive, said: “We plan to introduce the 102 in spring 2015 and, in the months ahead, we will be sharing more details about this superb new ship and announcing ways in which Islanders can be involved in our preparations.”
“Poole is a modern and well-connected port, well-liked by our customers.
“We recognise that this is disappointing news for Weymouth.
“However, given the need for berth improvements and an Environmental Impact Assessment, Weymouth is not currently in a position to accommodate the 102.
“Reaching a medium-term arrangement with Poole will give certainty to our customers, our Islands, and Poole Harbour Commissioners, while also allowing enough time for Weymouth & Portland Borough Council to establish their long-term plans for their port.
“We will continue to operate Condor Vitesse from Weymouth until spring 2015.”
- Tony Rowbotham, chairman of the Guernsey Chamber of Commerce, said he was disappointed at the news but said the new vessel would secure the service for the island.
He said: “I think it’s more important for the island to have a modern, more reliable service to the United Kingdom and if we have to pay more for the service that is the price we have to pay.
“It’s disappointing that it will stop going to Weymouth but from the island’s point of view we recognise that Condor needed a new ferry and that can travel in rougher seas and so we have fewer cancellations, which is the most important thing.”
Popular route to come to an end in ferry changes
FORMER town mayor Ray Banham set up a Friends of Weymouth and Jersey group to celebrate the close relationship between the two towns, fostered by the ferry link.
Mr Banham said: “It has come as a bit of a shock, but it wasn’t completely unexpected. I really thought Condor might contribute something towards the berth extension and in actual fact I think Condor might be worse off following the move due to higher fuel costs and 98 per cent of the employees are based in Weymouth.
“We have got a year to look elsewhere and hope other companies come into the harbour, there are other options. It’s a huge blow to the town.
“There will be a year to look at options and if we can’t get other companies in or extend Condor then it will have an even bigger impact on the town. It will affect the local economy massively. It’s surprising how many people come down the day before and stop here.
“It is also quite a popular route and it will affect the relationships that have built up during the links.”
‘We need to operate more sailings’
WEYMOUTH and Portland Borough Councillor Ian Bruce has said if Condor stays in Weymouth, or other companies come into the town, there should be more sailings out of the harbour.
Cllr Bruce said: “I have said all along for us to be a ferry port we need more than one ferry sailing a day and it would be possible for Condor or for anyone else to sail at least twice a day.
“If we were to continue having a ferry in Weymouth we need another customer or another boat from Condor. We are almost asking the wrong question regarding the £10 million needed for repair works, because if there is only one vessel in use from the berth it’s unviable.
“I’m disappointed Condor didn’t go with the vessel that fits the Weymouth. If you run a ferry between ports then buy a ferry that fits the port. The difference with Weymouth is that they can come alongside the berth.
“The council will continue to work with Condor to see if any of their vessels, including the Austal 102, will fit into the existing facilities and continue to use Weymouth port.
New business opportunities in vessel move
WE WERE here before Condor, and we will be here after.
That was the defiant rallying call of one local business leader as business owners and managers reacted to the news of Condor’s departure from the town.
Business leaders said the local economy will be ‘massively’ affected by Condor leaving and have called on the council to explore the opportunities following the departure.
Dave Price, chairman of the hoteliers association, said: “This is a great shame.
“We now need to show Condor that we can do without them as well – the council and everybody needs to start looking to the future.
“We were here before Condor and we will be here after them. I personally think we need to forget about Condor and look after ourselves, look at developing Portland Port and Weymouth Port and then build on that and try to get more companies in.”
Julie Cleaver, president of the Weymouth and Portland Chamber of Commerce, described the news as a “bitter blow”.
Mrs Cleaver said: “We knew it was on the cards for a while now but it’s a bitter blow for local businesses.
“Being brought up in the town I can always remember there being a cross channel link and it’s incredibly sad to see that end.
“These are difficult times for business and key business decisions have to be made. The council hasn’t got £10 million to spend and Condor hasn’t got it either and they have to look at it from a business point of view. We need to remember businesses did have a taste of it when Condor was away for two years, but it will affect them massively.
“Taxis, hotels and restaurants will be hit the hardest, because of people staying the night before or the night after a ferry arrived.
“We do have other things coming up, such as challenge Weymouth and the town centre master-plan, and I’m not saying it’s a replacement, but there are different markets emerging that we as a business community now need to look at differently.”
Phil Say chairman of Weymouth Pavilion, said: “It’s a pity for the people locally that work with and on the Condor Ferries.
“Perhaps it will open up for other companies to use the site and the facilities. It’s a pity that £4 million was spent repairing the berth for just over one year, but as they say, every cloud has a silver lining.
Martin James, from Kelston Guest House, said: “It will affect us quite badly. It did the last time they pulled out two years ago. It never picked up to the same levels as before, but I think we will lose 10-15 per cent of our business when they leave.
“Anything that takes tourism away from Weymouth is negative. Take tourism away from the town and there will be nothing left and it is a shame they are leaving as they are one of the biggest employers.”
Gary Thorne, from Boaters Guest House, said: “We will definitely lose business, we will miss it. Over the past few years we have had quite a bit of business from it and we wish they would stay here.”