Fleetwood’s historic ferry link to the Isle of Man could be revived, say supporters of a new campaign.
A 1,000-plus 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 gathered almost 9,000 members in one week.
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.
It has led to suggestions 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.
Such a 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 £170 million 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, even those who have doubts it can happen. We have nothing to lose and potentially a lot to gain.”
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.
In Fleetwood, businessman Darren Abey is so supportive of the move after reading Mr England’s comments on social media, he set up the “Isle of Man Ferry Back to Fleetwood” page on Facebook.
The page has gone viral, with over 8,900 members by teatime yesterday - including a Manx Government minister Phil Gawne and a number of Superbike racing stars.
Mr Abey, 50, of Oxford Road, who runs a motorcycle transit company and visits the island’s famous TT races every year, is delighted at the level of interest.
He said: “It would be brilliant to get the Isle of Man ferry back to Fleetwood.
“Obviously, it won’t be easy but I have friends on the island who are pushing this.
“The benefits to Fleetwood would be huge and this is the perfect time to try this.
“Fleetwood is dying a slow death - this would be the answer.
“I only set up the page last week and we have almost 9,000 members already.”
Coun Terry Rogers, chairman of Fleetwood Town Council, said: “Re-establishing then link with the Isle of Man will present a challenge, but it would be great for this town.”
Guy Lockwood, the harbour master for Fleetwood, where the docks are owned and run by Associated British Ports, confirmed he had spoken with Mr England but was unable to comment further.
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, but did not wish to issue a statement at this stage.