Sandbanks Ferry toll increase set for public inquiry scrutiny

By Jason Lewis

Crime and court correspondent

Sandbanks Ferry toll increase set for public inquiry scrutiny

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OPERATORS of the Sandbanks Ferry will be forced to justify a proposed increase in toll charges at a public inquiry next month.

Sandbanks Ferry Company is attempting to secure approval for raising ticket prices.

An initial announcement of the plans was made in February, however, company bosses say feedback has led to them revising some their proposals.

The single trip ticket prices sought are between a 5 per cent to 5.56 per cent increase on the last approved Maximum Tolls Chargeable amounts – set back in 2015.

If approved, eventually over the next 12 years fees for foot passengers, bicycle and motorbike users heading to Studland could rise from £1 to £1.50 and for cars in both directions from £4.50 to £6.75.

Mike Kean, managing director of Sandbanks Ferry Company, said: “Toll increases are a necessary part of the mix in ensuring that our vital service to local businesses, residents and tourists is maintained long into the future. However, we want to ensure that any increase is informed by feedback from ferry users. For this reason, we have been having regular and organised discussions with local residents, councillors and officers from BCP Council, Dorset Council and other bodies over the last 18 months.

“This feedback has led to us cutting in half the desired initial cash toll rise, increasing the discounts applied to bulk purchase of tickets and pledging not to pay dividends until the Ferry Replacement Fund is at the required level in any given year. It has also informed the company’s public commitment to ensure that as far as possible the next ferry runs on renewable energy rather than diesel.

“We are very grateful for this engagement from ferry users, and these discussions regarding the toll increase will continue as we prepare for the public inquiry.”

The public inquiry has been called by the Department of Transport and is scheduled to take place as a virtual event over Microsoft Teams and telephone on November 16.

Sandbanks Ferry Company says their application proposes freezing the discount level of bulk purchase tickets at the current level until at least 2021.

A community liaison group was set up by the company in January 2020 with representatives from the Studland, Swanage, Purbeck and Sandbanks communities and councils. It has met three times and serves as a forum for updates on the ferry’s performance, future plans and feedback.

The operators said toll increases are an important part of the company's financial management and for securing the future safe and reliable running of the current vessel, the Bramble Bush Bay.

A controversial toll increase application in 2018 was rejected by Government-appointed inspector Kenneth Stone.