Manx ferry campaign grows

Darren Abey, of Oxford Road in Fleetwood, is campaigning to have the Isle of Man ferry route reinstated from Fleetwood.
Darren with his campaign posters in front of the van in which he travels to the TT each year.  PIC BY ROB LOCK
13-6-2016
Darren Abey, of Oxford Road in Fleetwood, is campaigning to have the Isle of Man ferry route reinstated from Fleetwood. Darren with his campaign posters in front of the van in which he travels to the TT each year. PIC BY ROB LOCK 13-6-2016
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A campaign to revive Fleetwood’s historic ferry link to the Isle of Man is gathering place.

A 1,800-strong online petition has been set up by a Manx businessman to gather support for such a move and a Facebook campaign set up in Fleetwood has over 9,200 members.

Now a paper petition has been set up in the town and new posters, modelled on a famous First World War design, have been placed in shops throughout Fleetwood and further afield.

The man behind the Facebook campaign, called the Isle of Man Ferry Back to Fleetwood, is port resident Darren Abey.

Darren, 50, of Oxford Road, Fleetwood, said: “The posters have been printed and have been placed in pubs, clubs and shops in Fleetwood and Knott End. We even have special versions being printed for Isle of Man.

“There are plenty of people on the island who want the ferry to link the two communities. Of course this won’t be easy, we know it will take a lot of investment and a lot of support from several different quarters. But we have absolutely nothing to lose.”

Fleetwood trader Caroline Boot has a copy of the paper petition in her shop, Forget-Me-Not, on Lord Street, and she said: “We have over 140 names, there is huge support.”

Blackpool resident Bill McCormick, whose great grandfather ran a ferry boat between Fleetwood and Northern Ireland, said: “The proposal to bring the Isle of Man ferry service back to Fleetwood is the most encouraging news for the port in a long time. A reinstated ferry service would have economic benefits not only for Fleetwood, but for the Fylde and the Isle of Man also.”

The interest in Fleetwood was ignited because of questions over the future of passenger ferry sailings between the island and Liverpool. There are plans to move the Steam Packet berth in the Mersey city half a mile to make way for a cruise liner terminal. But the cost of this could be £15m or more and Manx tax payers could be asked to contribute.

This has led to hopes that Fleetwood could step in as a replacement, pending support from the Manx government, Fleetwood’s dock owner Associated British Ports and ferry operator the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company.

The move would clearly require great investment in the infrastructure at Fleetwood, but Steve England, the man who has set the idea in motion, believes it would be a sound, long-term move.

Mr England, 50, who runs a maritime security business, has now set up a petition and has broached the issue with ABP at Fleetwood. He plans to present the petition to the Manx government.

He said: “If the Manx berth at Liverpool is having to be moved and the Isle of Man asked to pay, I think it is time to look for a viable North West port elsewhere and Fleetwood could be the answer. It is in the perfect location to offer a fast service between the island and the North West of England and there is a historical link between the two.

“Obviously what needs to be looked at is the cost of upgrading Fleetwood, the cost of dredging and question of the dredging license, and how these can be paid and by whom. The Isle of man Steam Packet Company currently has a monopoly of sailings from the island and has £170m to invest in two new vessels and services. This could be an opportunity to even have Fleetwood replace Heysham’s freight service with the island as well, and use one port instead of two. I am asking as many people as possible to sign the petition.”

The petition can be signed by visiting Mr England’s Facebook page, which features the Manx enblem.

There has been a regular ferry link between Fleetwood and the island in the past, originally dating from Victorian times, but these sailings were eventually deemed inviable by the Steam Packet and discontinued in the early 1990s.

However, a handful of one-off sailings since then have sold out rapidly and there is belief if handled correctly, there is real scope for a successful revival. The Isle of man Steam Packet Company is aware of the petition and Facebook campaign and is said to be taking an interest in the scale of support.