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Government will not back Appledore ferry idea

The Government has poured cold water on the idea of a new ferry for Scilly being ordered at Appledore shipyard, which is due to close in March.

Lord Tony Berkeley, a member of Friends of Isles of Scilly Transport (FRIST), tabled a debate on the future of the Devon facility in the House of Lords, which took place this afternoon.

The Labour peer said in his opening speech: "Could the Isles of Scilly service be the saviour of Appledore? We have to move fast and the Government have to move fast. The previous ferry 42 years ago was financed by government loans, and they have been repaid. ... Meetings with Ministers and officials have focused on how to get a winter ferry service, how to ensure that the operator does not remove the ship to make more money elsewhere - which is always a challenge - and on an operator of last resort.

"Ministers have made it clear that they are prepared to consider support only if there is one voice from the island community. I believe that has been delivered in its first stage. The timing is quite critical. One could start on a metal-bashing contract - as I call it - at Appledore from [the Route Partnership's agreed] design very quickly. It is all approved by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. Then one can talk in more detail about what has to go on top.

"Who would finance it is a question that needs to be asked with Ministers, local authorities and the present operator - it has just published its annual accounts this week, and they do not look too promising for funding a new ship. It would be possible for Ministers to arrange for a new Scillonian to be ordered from Appledore to save the yard. A new ship operating all year round would really benefit the people of Scilly and their guests. I know that Ministers believe that the modern shipbuilding facility at Appledore is worth preserving and encouraging. It has a long tradition.... Will the Government encourage their transport colleagues to take forward an order for a new Scillonian?"

Several Lords backed his remarks about the importance of the Appledore shipyard, which was founded in 1855 and currently has 200 employees. The Earl of Arran (Conservative) said: "The Government need to understand that the West Country does not start and end at Bristol, as was - and still is - the common perception. Appledore is what it is and where it is, and it needs to be regarded as a special case, with a skilled and loyal workforce who could have still so much to offer."

However, Baroness Goldie (Conservative) said that the provision of a new ferry is a commercial decision, which would not help Appledore in the short-term.

"I have been a very happy holidaymaker to the Isles of Scilly on one occasion - although I have to confess that I flew there; I did not go on the Scillonian," she said. "It is important for potential visitors to be encouraged to travel to the islands and to have the means of doing so, and that is a matter for the new transport board for the Isles of Scilly and the Isles of Scilly Steamship group, to reflect upon.

"Their vision may include a plan for the replacement of assets such as the Scillonian, but even with the buy-in of all, that is not a precise way forward. A lot of planning will have to emerge and become clear from such a vision, if that is what is ultimately intended. I should make it clear that the provision of a new ferry is a commercial decision for the new transport board. It is difficult to see anything in the possible provision of a new ferry that could help alleviate the immediate lack of work at Appledore now.

"The Government remain committed to ensuring that services to and from the Isles of Scilly are maintained and secured for the future. However, we must be clear that these have to operate on a commercial basis. We do not wish to interfere where there are commercial solutions to any transport challenges faced. We expect that to become clearer once the transport board has established its future vision."

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