THOUSANDS of commuters can breathe a sigh of relief after the Hayling Ferry was given a last-minute reprieve.
The ferry looked set to close after Portsmouth City Council pulled its £10,000 annual funding, which meant there was no cash to pay the pontoon licence from March.
At a meeting of Langstone Harbour Board yesterday, Hampshire County Council agreed to pay the shortfall until October, despite shelling out thousands in subsidies already.
But the council’s head of passenger transport Peter Shelley warned he was fed up of the council being seen as ‘the banker of last resort’.
He said: ‘We value this service and we’re extremely disappointed that Portsmouth has stepped back from this funding.
‘Our figures show 58 per cent of traffic originates on the Hayling side – people travelling to Portsmouth for education or employment. And 42 per cent originates in Portsmouth.
‘It’s fairly even so Hampshire is disappointed it’s being left totally to the county council.
‘We do value the service, that’s why we’ve been involved in capital costs and licence fees.
‘Ideally we would like the service to continue but there will come a point if we keep being faced with bills that there will be some difficulty.’
The ferry owners Frida and Tina Edwards attended the harbour board meeting for the first time.
They have been calling for the harbour board to look again at the fees for the pontoon, which are now £20,000 a year.
The harbour master Nigel Jardine has agreed to look at the fees but said they could even go up.
Lyall Cairns, the harbour board’s engineer, said £170,000 had been spent on maintaining the pontoons for the ferry since 2008, and the Hayling pontoon would need to be replaced within the next five to 10 years at a cost of £200,000.
Councillor Luke Stubbs, of Portsmouth City Council, questioned why so much subsidy was given to the ferry company and the transparency of their accounts considering the amount of public funding the private company gets.
Frida Edwards’ response was, ‘It is a limited company so there is full transparency.
‘All you have to do is go to Companies’ House.’
There will be a review of the ferry service and a decision on long-term funding will be taken by October.
Speaking after the meeting Tina Edwards, the director of the company, said: ‘We feel relieved we have got a bit of breathing space.
‘It would be good if they looked again at the pontoon fees because that is what we have been asking for.’
She added: ‘It’s not as profitable as everyone seems to think. It’s not a massive goldmine.’
* We are sorry that the original headline on this story incorrectly stated that Portsmouth City Council had thrown a cash lifeline to the ferry.