WEYMOUTH Harbour is in need of a boost despite efficiency savings – and a long term plan is needed to generate money.

That’s the view of Harbour Master Keith Howorth who says while action has been taken to mitigate against the loss of Condor Ferries, there’s a long way to go to achieving a balanced budget for the future.

A long term strategy for the harbour needs to be developed and an independent firm of consultants are being employed to advise on future improvements, councillors will be told.

Members should also consider options for who should run the harbour in future, with possible involvement from the private sector.

Weymouth and Portland Borough Council is being given an update on what has been happening in the harbour – more than two years after the final Condor Ferries' sailing from the port.

Condor’s switch to Poole led to a major loss of income from the harbour budget – up to £750,000 a year.

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Despite the main income loss, work has been going on to maximise income elsewhere, make the harbour an attractive place to visit and improve the infrastructure. Staff levels are now at ‘minimum’.

After money was taken from the reserves to prop up the port and finance repairs following Condor’s departure, there was actually a surplus in the budget for 2016/17.

But work needs to be done to ensure the harbour doesn’t sink in future.

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A business update from Mr Howorth reveals:

  • Meetings with Condor Ferries last year confirmed no plans for the firm to return to Weymouth “in any scenarios for future plans”
  • The possibility of High Speed Ferries running a service from Weymouth to France also ruled out last year – but the firm did contribute £100,000 to keep the port available
  • Filming of Dunkirk last year by Warner Bros. generated £100,000
  • Harbour is ‘considerable asset’ and will play important role in town centre redevelopment
  • Visiting yacht numbers down 3 per cent for the 2016/17 period compared to previous year, while number of berths occupied in the inner harbour was 282 out of a capacity of 409
  • Lack of suitable parking is ‘biggest factor’ for discouraging people to take berths. Problem will ‘worsen’ with closure of North Quay car park
  • Proactive advertising campaign to help reverse downward trend in visiting vessels, and ‘careful consideration’ of pricing policy
  • Investigations into whether small passenger liners could stop off, but this is unlikely
  • Little promotion of Weymouth as stopover port has been made but that is changing with hope of attracting new business
  • Investment in pontoons, five new large berths created
  • Progress to improve infrastructure – harbour wall repairs and maintenance dredging are ‘key’ to harbour’s future success
  • Potential income from new aqualculture business
  • Some buildings at ferry terminal rented out
  • Delays to some non-essential work
  • Charges brought back to store fishing gear and other kit

Mr Howorth says: “A number of actions have been taken to work towards the delivery of a service at less cost to the council.

“External advice is being sought to assist with planning for the long term of Weymouth Harbour, which operates in a changing and competitive environment.

“A key challenge is to address the capital needs while maximising all income raising opportunities.”

He adds: “There has been some positive progress but there is still a long journey to achieve the balanced budget for the future. It is hoped that through the discussion for the development of the long term strategy some further ideas and opportunities will emerge.”

Mr Howorth says the efficiency drive at the harbour needs to continue, the admin burden reduced and further funding streams sought.

But Mr Howorth says councillors should also consider ‘future ownership’ of the harbour.

The report has already been discussed by the Harbour Management Board. The report will go in front of the management commitee next Tuesday.

'Weathering the storm'

COUNCIL spokesman for tourism, culture and the harbour Cllr Richard Kosior said: “It has been tough for the harbour and the harbour master and his small team have been doing their best to weather the storm and steer it through. They have been doing sterling work with the resources available.”

He added: “We’re looking at the future and a firm of experienced consultants are compiling a report to see if there are other improvements that can be made.

“The council is looking at all aspects of the harbour for the future to ensure it is giving us value for money and is managed in a good way.”

Cllr Kosior said the possibility of a 'harbour trust' could be investigated to run the harbour rather than private ownership but this has yet to be fully explored.