Massive blow for shipping hopes

Wyre Borough Council Cabinet member 'Barry Birch
Wyre Borough Council Cabinet member 'Barry Birch
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HOPES of bringing commercial shipping trade back to the Fylde coast have been dealt a massive blow.

It comes after ferry firm Stena were ruled to be in the clear over the controversial decision to end their Irish service from Fleetwood.

Preliminary findings from the Competition Commission said the decision to quit the port in December was linked to a decision to buy other Irish Sea routes from DFDS Seaways.

But the commission says the Fleetwood to Larne route would have closed in any event and there has been no significant loss of competition on the Irish Sea.

The news has been welcomed by Stena and locally there has been a call for the port to refocus and concentrate on the future.

Fleetwood MP Eric Ollerenshaw said: “It’s extremely disappointing. Now we will have to get back to what’s happening in the port with Associated British Ports (ABP) to see if there are any other carriers interested or to see if we can get into the wind farm repair business to keep the port moving.”

Coun Barry Birch, Wyre Council’s portfolio holder for the economy, said it was bad news.

But he added: “We must look to the future. Fleetwood can’t afford to remain static.

“I will continue to promote the area to potential investors. It’s essential that residents and businesses in the port don’t let heads go down. Investors like to see enthusiasm in the area and willingness to change so we can all move on.”

The commission will make a final decision by July 25 after submissions from interested parties.

Michael McGrath, area director in the Irish Sea for Stena, said he was “satisfied” and added: “We can now proceed with more detailed planning for the Irish Sea routes

“We will continue to work closely and liaise with the Competition Commission as they move towards a final ruling.”

Stena always maintained that their DFDS acquisitions and the closure of the Fleetwood route were not linked.

But the commission findings said that internal Stena documents show the decisions were taken by the same people at the same meetings.

Their report states: “Stena wanted to manage any exit from Fleetwood-Larne in the best manner for its business.”

It adds: “We found the three ships running the route were old and near the end of their commercial lives.

“Fleetwood port had specific operational requirements in terms of draught and turning circle. This meant that new purpose-built shops would have been needed to operate from Fleetwood and, given current economic circumstances, competition and likely future demand, we accepted Stena’s submissions that this would not have been profitable.”

No-one from ABP was available for comment.