ICONIC pleasure boats the ‘Belles’ will not return to Bournemouth Pier this Easter – ending an 110-year association with the town.

Dorset Cruises, which owns the Bournemouth Belle and Dorset Belle, failed to win the licence to run cruises from the pier when Bournemouth Council went out to tender last year.

It is a devastating blow for the historic company – amounting to some three-quarters of its business lost.

Maritime operations manager Alastair Oliver said: “We’re in a pretty bad state really. We used to employ about nine to 12 guys in the height of the summer – this year we’ll possibly be down to three or four.

“It’s decimated us and basically made one of our boats redundant. It’s a shame for us, and it’s going to be a real shock for people in Bournemouth who love these boats and know we’ve been here for 100 years.”

The company’s association with Bournemouth goes back to 1900 when founder John Henry Bolson offered rowing boats for hire.

His son Jake won the first passenger boat licence to operate from the pier in 1914, and, apart from during the war years, their cruise trips have continued ever since.

In the 1970s the current vessels, the Bournemouth, Poole and Dorset Belles, were built especially to fit to the pier, with multi-directional propellers to help them navigate the shallow waters.

The company stayed in the hands of the Bolson family until 1996.

Last year between 25,000 and 30,000 people took a trip aboard a ‘Belle’ from Bournemouth Pier.

The service will be taken over from April 1 by Poole-based Blue Line Cruises, which won the five-year tender. Its 250-seat Jurassic Scene, and 213-seat Solent Scene will offer trips to Swanage, Poole, the Isle of Wight, Brownsea and around the bay.

Marketing manager Carol Scott said: “We’re really excited about going in. It’s a new adventure for us.”

Bournemouth Borough Council said Dorset Cruises licence expired in October and “in line with council strategy for procurement processes” they “went out to a competitive tendering process inviting numerous companies, including Dorset Cruises Ltd, to submit their tenders.”