Only three years after a planning inspector ruled on the maximum tolls that could be charged over the next 10 years for using the ferry between Studland and Sandbanks in Dorset, the ferry company says it needs more money.
In 2021, following a three day public inquiry, a planning inspector agreed with the consortium of Dorset Council, Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council (BCP) and Swanage Town Council that the Sandbanks Ferry couldn’t raise its tolls in line with inflation but should set annual incremental increases of around 3 percent over the 10 year period and freeze rates for cyclists and foot passengers.
The ferry is a vital transport link between Studland and Sandbanks and toll charges have to be agreed bt the governmnet’s secretary of state for transport, currently Mark Harper
Increase of 66 percent for cyclists and Sandbanks foot passengers
At the time with inflation at a historical low, the set increases were higher than the rate of inflation, but in 2022, inflation rose to around 10 percent, although the ferry was out of operation for 17 weeks from October 2022 to February 2023.
Now the Sandbanks Ferry Company wants to charge ferry users more than the previously set rates, including hiking costs for cyclists and foot passengers from Sandbanks by 66 percent.
It claims that at a recent meeting which included councillors from Dorset Council and BCP Council, its initiative “received unilateral support”.
It’s not clear why elected councillors from Dorset or BCP Councils would take a different stance only three years later, especially without wider council and community engagement.
The ferry was out of action in a dry dock for 17 weeks between October 2022 and February 2023 for a scheduled refit and unscheduled damage received while being towed from Poole to Falmouth for the refit
“Heavy financial strain”
The Sandbanks Ferry Company says it needs to raise tolls at a higher rate than set out by the planning inspector because of financial pressures. In a statement it said:
“Due to rising costs in running the ferry operation coupled with the additional pressure of increased corporation tax and lower than projected income, a heavy financial strain has been put on the company.
“The ferry company is hoping that, with the support of the Department for Transport, it is able to align tolls to inflation and reduce some of the unsustainable discounts currently available whilst increasing others.”
It added that should inflation ever become negative it would reduce tolls.
Managing director of the ferry company, Jason du Toit, said:
“The costs of running the ferry service have risen exponentially whilst income has fallen in real terms. To ensure the continued operation of the ferry service beyond the next decade we have explored all options open to us.”
The ferry company which is only allowed to operate due to an Act of Parliament has now asked the government’s secretary of state for transport Mark Harper to revise the tolls set by the legal order following the 2021 public enquiry.
It’s proposed that the single toll for a car should rise by 15 percent from £5.20 to £5.97
- Pedestrian (one way toll from Sandbanks): Current toll £1. Immediate increase to £1.66 followed by annual CPI inflation increase
- Pedestrian (one way from Shell Bay, Studland): No current toll charge and no proposed future toll
- Pedal or motorcycle (bikes): Current toll £1. Immediate increase to £1.66 followed by annual CPI inflation increase
- Passenger vehicle less than 16 persons (cars): Current toll £5.20. Immediate increase to £5.97 followed by annual CPI inflation increase
- Passenger vehicle more than 16 persons (coaches): Current toll £10.40. Immediate increase to £11.94 annual CPI inflation increase
- Goods vehicle less than 3,500 kg (vans): Current toll £5.20. Immediate increase to £5.97 followed by annual CPI inflation increase
- Goods vehicle 3,501 kg to 20,000 kg (trucks): Current toll £10.40. Immediate increase to £11.94 followed by annual CPI inflation increase
The Sandbanks Ferry company is a subsidary of the holding company Fairacres Group Limited, a property and hotel business based in Essex
“Initial response is that it’s scandalous”
At the 2021 public inquiry any sharp increase in the cost of tolls was opposed by local employers the National Trust and The Pig on the Beach Hotel because many of their staff travel regularly from Poole to Studland for work and the increased travel costs would make it harder to attract employees.
Studland Parish Council also strongly objected to further ferry price increases because of the reliance of the local community on the essential transport link.
Reacting to the ferry company’s latest move, chair of Studland Parish Council Nick Boulter said:
“We’re studying the proposals but my initial response is that it’s scandalous.
“For the ferry company to ask for more money following such an extensive and thorough public inquiry, when inflation is rapidly falling, is surely hard to justify.
“Price increases will only put off people from using the ferry. We saw when it was out of service how the lack of visitors from Bournemouth badly hit commercial trade in Studland and Swanage.
“Higher tolls will just make it far more expensive for people from Purbeck to travel to Poole and Bournemouth for healthcare, shopping and essential services.”
Objections to the ferry company’s application must be submitted by Friday 22nd March 2024 via email to email@example.com or by letter to the Secretary of State, Department for Transport, Tyneside House, Skinnerburn Road, Newcastle Business Park, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE4 7AR, marked for the attention of Sandra Zamenzadeh (Casework manager, National Transport Casework Team).