POOLE has been selected as UK port for a new £50m Brittany Ferries freighter in a move which safeguards the passenger route to France.

The Cotentin will be the largest, fastest freight ship on the channel when it comes into service in October.

At 165m long, 26.8m wide, with 120 cabins and 120 freight units, she will have two-and-a-half times the capacity of the Coutances she is expected to replace.

As well as operating between Poole and Cherbourg during the week, she will moved back and forth to Santander in northern Spain at weekends - a new route from Poole for importing and exporting businesses.

The decision has been heralded as a major boost for the port and a reflection of confidence in the town.

But had Cotentin gone to Portsmouth, the major rival for the contract, it could have spelt the end for Poole's passenger ferry link to Cherbourg.

Jim Stewart, chief executive of Poole Harbour Commissioners, said the ageing freighter Coutances had been expected to be withdrawn from service soon. Without a replacement, The Barfleur, which carries freight as well as passengers, would have been left vulnerable as the only freight service on the route.

He said: "Really you need two services operating a route. Had it just gone down to the Barfleuer we would certainly have had fears for the continuing ferry link between Poole and Cherbourg. He added: "I think it speaks volumes about Brittany Ferries' confidence in the service provided in Poole. It will be a real boost for the port and consequently the town as well."

David Longden, managing director of Brittany Ferries, said: "We are delighted to be able to grow our presence there."

Cllr Ron Parker, portfolio holder for the local economy at Borough of Poole, said it was "a complete vote of confidence in the thriving port of Poole and this town."