Support for Sandbanks Ferry toll rise ‘strongly refuted’ by Dorset Council

Dorset Council has denied claims by the Sandbanks Ferry company that it backs its bid to inflation link toll increases.

The Sandbanks Ferry company, which runs a service between Studland and Sandbanks in Dorset, is asking the government’s Department for Transport to revise the 10 year price increase plan that was set out by a planning inspector in 2021.

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Sandbanks ferry

The Sandbanks Ferry company is a subsidary of the holding company Fairacres Group Limited, a property and hotel business based in Essex

Inflation linked rises ruled out in 2021

Following a three day public inquiry, the 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.

Surprisingly, in a press release issued by the ferry company on Thursday 8th February 2024, it claimed that Dorset Council and BCP Council were now on board with the idea of inflation linking the price of the tolls. It said:

“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.

“At a meeting, which included councillors from both BCP and Dorset Councils, the ferry company agreed with stakeholders that should inflation ever become negative it would mean a reduction in tolls. Given
this undertaking the initiative received unilateral support.”

Ray Bryan, Dorset Council's portfolio for Highways
Dorset Council

Dorset Council says that its portfolio holder for highways, travel and environment councillor Ray Bryan (right) was not involved in discussions with the ferry company on this matter

“Key stakeholders… have not been involved in these conversations”

Now, Dorset Council has issued a statement denying support and says that key councillors, portfolio holder for highways councillor Ray Bryan and local ward member for South East Purbeck councillor Cherry Brooks weren’t involved in a meeting with the ferry company about this issue.

A Dorset Council spokesperson said:

“Despite what is strongly inferred in the ferry company’s press release, Dorset Council has not given support for aligning tolls to inflation. While it was noted that such a system may have benefits for some, agreement was not made on behalf of the council.

“Key stakeholders such as our portfolio holder for highways and our local ward member for South East Purbeck have not been involved in these conversations either.

“It’s disappointing to see that they are applying to the Department for Transport to further increase fares just three years into the current 12 year ferry fare plan. This plan already includes annual price rises for motorised vehicles, and was agreed by the secretary of state in 2021 after being thoroughly tested through a public inquiry.

“It is also concerning to see that the ferry company is seeking to increase fares for pedestrians and cyclists, which penalises forms of travel that can help to relieve congestion in the nearby area.

“Our position was made clear back in October 2023 when our portfolio holder for finance, commercial and capital strategy informed their managing director that, if an inflationary factor was used, it may seem unfair on customers when the price of fuel falls, for example.

“It was also noted that such a change should be part of a wider public consultation. Therefore, the release does not represent our collective concerns, and we strongly refute any suggestion we are currently supportive of these proposals.”

Sandbanks ferry with damaged prow arm
Poole Maritime Trust

The ferry was out of action in a dry dock for 17 weeks between October 2022 and February 2023 due to damage received while being towed from Poole to Falmouth for a scheduled 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 the earlier issued press release it stated:

“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.”

Managing director of the ferry company, Jason du Toit, added:

“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.”

Sandbanks ferry

The ferry company wants to increase the single toll for a car by 15 percent from £5.20 to £5.97

Possible 66 percent increase for cyclists

If the tolls are revised to meet the demands of the ferry company, it would mean the single toll for a car would immediately rise by 15 percent from £5.20 to £5.97 and then rise annually in line with CPI inflation. There would also be immediate toll increases for all other vehicles.

The single toll for cyclists and foot passengers from Sandbanks would immediately increase from £1 to £1.66, a 66 percent increase, and then rise annually in line with CPI inflation.

Critics of the toll increases point out that making it more expensive to travel on the ferry is likely to discourage people from using the route, resulting in less passengers and overall less income.

Will more people drive round in future rather than take the ferry if prices rise?

Have your say

Objections to the ferry company’s application must be submitted by Friday 22nd March 2024 via email to nationalcasework@dft.gov.uk 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).

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