Friends of the Ferries across the Mersey
CHAIR’S AGM REPORT 2023
26th June 2023 at the YMCA 7.30pm
Good evening. Although it is four years since we last met because of Covid, I anticipate that through our twice-yearly Newsletters and Chair’s letters you feel the Committee has kept you updated on the Mersey Ferries’ situation during this period.
What a roller-coaster ride we have had! At our 2019 AGM, I reported that we had been invited by Mersey Ferries in August 2018 to examine their concept plan for a new vessel - perhaps even two – with a first delivery maybe in 2021. On the advice of London consultants, initial funding by Merseytravel was agreed, and we optimistically thought the prospects of safeguarding the future service were much brighter. However, cost estimates fell significantly short of those submitted by the tenderers. Design changes and negotiations, however, failed to match the funding available and the outlook remained bleak. More recently, in November 2022, the City Region Combined Authority issued a press statement by the Mayor Steve Rotheram
re-iterating robust support for a future ferry service, indicating that discussions with ship-builders were in progress for one vessel, but that the Snowdrop would be refurbished. We understand that phased refurbishment work has already commenced.
We will continue to lobby for a new vessel design which can adequately cope with the rigours of the River Mersey.
Meanwhile, in terms of fixed infrastructure, the Seacombe stage and terminal has been very substantially upgraded, and plans for a new Woodside stage (or major refurbishment) are being drawn up, the scheme to be basically funded by committed Government Town Centre redevelopment grants. These are very significant investments and will surely make a closure of the ferry service less likely. However, we have’nt yet seen any plans for the Woodside Stage, and are dismayed to find that in the interim it has been closed. We are told this is because it is too shabby, and anyway a Wirral service to the new Seacombe terminal is being offered! A new stage is envisaged by late 2024 – ie meaning two years of closure. Many members will recall that the proposed rescinding by Parliament in 1977 of the Royal Charter requiring the provision of a service to Woodside was the spark that led to the formation of Friends of the Ferries. We may wish to discuss this matter later this evening.
A more minor, but recent, matter of concern relates to the withdrawal of free parking at Seacombe for those who do not hold commuter tickets for multiple journeys. This arises from the opening of the new “Eureka!” exhibition centre which now operates the car parks there instead of Merseytravel. It now wishes to make a charge as well as ensuring spaces are available for their customers. That’s all very well, but it erodes Merseytravel’s principles in providing free parking at public transport nodes. No restrictions apply to train passengers who park at Wirral railway station car parks!
On a positive note, Mersey Ferries are introducing additional evening dance and music cruises in response to current demands – shades of the 1951 Royal Iris!
Administratively, our membership is holding up around the 450 mark, and our Christmas Draw remains popular. We have now made the arrangements to resume our annual Dock and River Cruise (on 2nd September this year), and will update our website accordingly – I look forward to seeing you aboard on the trip. Financially, our position remains satisfactory. Since the last AGM, the annual accounts have been included with Geoff Holmes’ Newsletters, and our Hon. Treasurer Malcolm McRonald will shortly discuss the accounts for the year ending 31st March 2023 which you have just received in the recent mailing. We have good communication with Mersey Ferries through Gary Evans, who is Assistant Director for Customer Delivery, Merseytravel, and is very contactable. He has a range of responsibilities which include specific involvement with Mersey Ferries. However, he has of course to follow the party line and can only inform us of “official” policy!
We are fortunate to have an experienced, long-standing Committee to rely on. However, at present, Joan Roberts is convalescing in a care home where her health is improving following hospitalisation after falling. David Hocker has now moved to the Stranraer area to be nearer relatives. We would be happy to discuss with members their co-option to the Committee. Special thanks meanwhile must be given to Gordon Ditchfield whom we keep fully occupied all year around as Membership Secretary and organiser of both the Draw and the Cruise!
So, although many uncertainties remain concerning major investments and other engineering work, particularly in the light of inflation and public purse constraints, the political will to support the Mersey Ferries and its economic benefits to the locality and the City Region remain strong. We’ll see what the next 12 months brings!
Andrew Hodgson, Chairman, Friends of the Ferries across the Mersey
26th June 2023.