Plan for new ferry for King’s Lynn move a step closer as West Norfolk Council looks set to approve �30,000 investment

A new amphibious vehicle could start carrying commuters across the River Ouse in King's Lynn as early as January, it emerged tonight.

West Norfolk Council is considering paying �30,000 towards the cost of the craft because, officers claim, the river is so silted the operators of the ferry are struggling to maintain a reliable service.

The council's resources panel tonight gave its backing to the contribution to the ferry's operators SN Kingston. The investment plan will now be put before the council's cabinet next week.

Addressing the panel, Jemma Curtis, regeneration programmes manager at the council, said a ferry service has operated the Great Ouse since the 13th Century and serves customers from West Lynn, Clenchwarton, Terrington St Clement and the Fens.

She also said passenger numbers have increased dramatically in the last 12 years, rising 43,000 return passengers in 2000 to 85,000 last year.

But she added numbers are decreasing because the ferry is now unable to reach the landing stage on the Lynn side at low tide, meaning passengers have to walk along boards.

She later told councillors: 'This amphibious vehicle will provide a long term solution which can operate in all states of tide.'

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The ferry service lost its �25,000 subsidy from Norfolk County Council earlier this year but still receives a �20,000 �20,000 subsidy from West Norfolk Council each year.

But this will be reduced to �17,000 for ten years so the council can to recoup the �30,000 cost of the new vessel, Ms Curtis added.

The council officer also confirmed the vessel would take three months to build after the order is placed - meaning it could be launched in January next year if the council's cabinet approves the investment next Tuesday.

Backing the plan, councillor Tom de Winton said: 'We have a particular problem that is not going to go away and if we don't fund this boat, the ferry service won't be able to operate for much longer. It's a no brainer, we need to have a ferry there.'

But councillor David Collis argued an extension to the current walkway was the most 'obvious measure' and one he believes is still a possibility.

He also added: 'We need to have a clear view of the financial situation of the company and have clarification on our legal standing in reclaiming the vessel if there are any problems.'

Councillor John Collop was also worried about the ferry operator's finances.

He said: 'A year ago we heard the news that the ferry service was losing its �25,000 subsidy from Norfolk County Council and that is a large amount of money to lose for a business of this size.

'I'm surprised these people can lose that amount and keep going and now we are talking about giving them an advance of �30,000 and then taking it back over ten years.

'We need to know if that can afford to carry on.'

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Gail Kingston, who runs the ferry service with husband Steve, said: 'The sandbanks usually occur in the summer months and clear with autumn rainfall but that has not occurred over last two years. This means we are having to deal with sandbanks in the winter now as well as the summer.

'The borough council has been very supportive in helping us come up with solution to the problem. The ferry service is a valuable resource that should be invested in.'

Mrs Kingston has, however, expressed concerns at a potential agreement between the ferry operators and the council which means the authority will retain the right to buy back the vessel for �1 if the service is closed.

The council claims this is necessary to ensure the investment in a vessel remains an asset for the ferry service in the long term.

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