EMERGENCY services have been charged thousands of pounds for using the Sandbanks Ferry, it can be revealed.

The ambulance and fire service racked up huge bills by using the chain ferry, which connects Sandbanks and Studland, despite police not paying a penny. 

The findings highlight an “extraordinary charging policy towards the emergency services”, according to residents. 

South Western Ambulance Service spent £8,825 with Sandbanks Ferry between April and December of last year alone.

In the previous financial year of 2022/2023, the ambulance service spent a total of £12,774 with the operator.

This is an increase on £11,214 spent in 2021/2022, and £7,917 in 2020/2021.

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request revealed that Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service (DWFRS) had spent a total of £4,261 on the Sandbanks Ferry over the past five years.

Breaking down the past three years, £1615 was spent by the fire service in 2022/2023, £990 was spent in 2021/2022, and £372 was spent in 2020/2021.

When the same FOI request was submitted to Dorset Police, the county force said Sandbanks Ferry let police vehicles travel free of charge.

Philip Eades, a Swanage resident since 2016, submitted each of the FOI requests to police, ambulance and fire.

He told the Daily Echo he had heard a rumour that the ferry operators charged emergency vehicles.

He said: “I just thought, this can’t be true, it just seems extraordinary to me, so I put in the FOI.”

Bournemouth Echo: The FOI requests were submitted by Philip EadesThe FOI requests were submitted by Philip Eades (Image: Philip Eades)

Speaking about his findings, Philip said: “I cannot understand how they charge any of the services because all three of the services provide important public services, particularly for us in Swanage, and the wider Isle of Purbeck.

“The ambulance service is being charged for taking people from here to hospital, because we’ve only got a little hospital here.

“It does seem very odd.”

Philip has shared his FOI findings with other residents, and said: “People are shocked. I’m sure that nobody knew they were being charged.

“I can’t believe I’m the first person to ask this question, but maybe I am.”

Sandbanks Ferry said it is governed by The Bournemouth-Swanage Motor Road and Ferry Act 1923, which states they are unable to charge the police, but has no mention of the other emergency services. 

Bournemouth Echo: The ferry crossing on the day of the Studland fire in Summer 2022The ferry crossing on the day of the Studland fire in Summer 2022 (Image: NQ)

Damien Bence, Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service area manager, said: “Due to the geography and location of our fire stations, it can sometimes be a more effective approach to utilise the ferry in order to provide quicker access for our appliances which may be travelling from the Bournemouth area to bolster the response to an incident.

"The Sandbanks Ferry support this response by working with our Service Control Centre to ensure the ferry is held at the relevant access point depending on the estimated response time of those emergency resources. 

“The company will invoice in line with their standard vehicle toll for all occasions when the fire service utilise their ferry as part of an emergency response. 

"The bulk of this use has been during the summer months when several incidents have occurred on the Isle of Purbeck which has required the attendance of significant emergency resources from the east of our service area."