THE race is on for Weymouth to reclaim its cross-Channel ferry link which it lost this summer due to crumbling harbour walls.
Council chiefs will soon appoint a contractor to fix the ferry berth ready for Condor Ferries’ 2013 summer sailing season next March.
Bids to tender for the work had to be in by yesterday.
A tight timescale will be faced – and there’s no guarantee Condor will return in March.
Poole has been hosting Weymouth’s Condor sailings to the Channel Islands since February.
Harbour commissioners there have been delighted with the bonus sailings, and have held discussions with Condor about the future.
Condor was Weymouth port’s biggest customer and pumped millions into the economy.
Weymouth and Portland Borough Council environment and sustainability spokesman Ian Roebuck said the council was ‘very aware’ of the importance of the ferry and was working with Condor to ensure sailings resume as soon as possible.
Condor switched to Poole after concerns were raised about the structure of the wall at Weymouth where ferries are berthed. Emergency repair work was unsuccessful.
The extent of the damage was revealed in photographs which showed the wall was collapsing.
It sparked a debate over why the council had waited so long to act when it had been known for years the 80-year-old berth was deteriorating.
Damage has been caused by tides and the water jet propulsion system on ferries. A ferry terminal upgrade was to be included in Howard Holdings’ plans for the Pavilion site but the development never happened.
In June the council ordered works to be carried out. Advance works costing about £240,000 to stabilise ferry berth three were completed on time and under budget on July 20.
Next is a major engineering project worth £1.75m to repair the berth. The council will appoint a contractor at the management committee meeting on October 2 and work will start soon after. Coun Roebuck said: “We are keeping in touch with Condor on a regular basis to update them about progress.
“Our schedule and theirs are closely interlinked and we aim to make sure that our milestones allow them to plan with confidence to resume Weymouth sailings next spring.”
A council spokesman said the timescale for the work has ‘always been ambitious and challenging within a tight budget’.
Condor was not available for comment yesterday – however the company has said it wants to return to Weymouth in 2013, once the works on the wall have been completed. It sees the resort as the ‘gateway to the Channel Islands’.
Chief Executive of Poole Harbour Commissioners Jim Stewart said: “We were very happy to assist Condor Ferries after the problems at Weymouth. While we would welcome continued exclusivity of its fast craft operations, we do of course recognise that Condor has the option of returning to Weymouth once the quay has been repaired.
“We have held discussions with Condor about future operations in Poole, however no decisions have yet been reached and it is likely that these talks will continue over the coming weeks.”