Condor: Court them or abort them?
WEYMOUTH’S relationship with the ferry company, Condor, has all the tiffs of an ardent suitor courting a flirtatious woman.
The attraction between the two is clear since Condor gets the port most suited to providing its ferry service and Weymouth gets much needed revenue and the headline position as the Gateway to the Channel Islands.
But – just like true love – the course of ferry courtship never did run smooth.
Weymouth is now a less than able-bodied suitor, needing to use a stick having shot itself in the foot over poor future planning which saw major harbour wall repairs suddenly required at a cost of more than £4 million. Work to Berth 3 was carried out against an embarrassing backdrop of Condor moving to Poole while it was carried out.
And just like a woman who feels she’s hooked her man, Condor is now pushing the boundaries of that relationship with the shock news that it suddenly doesn’t want Berth 3.
Oh no! Condor wants Berth 1 and has stamped its foot and warned it could go to Poole if it doesn’t get what it wants.
This is because Berth 1 is bigger, because Condor is buying a huge new ferry and because that new and larger hydrofoil is a massive 102 metres long instead of the more modest 86 metres of its existing ferry.
All this has seen a certain cooling in the relationship between the two lovers with Condor refusing to sign an agreement with Weymouth.
Lowering the temperature has been the spectre of a £10 million bill for the conversion of Berth 1 to suit Condor’s bigger needs.
This includes the minefield of a Harbour Revision Order which might see Condor operate from Poole for up to two years while the niceties are thrashed out and berth conversion work is completed.
The council says it can’t and won’t pay that sort of money, Condor says it won’t foot the bill and both sides are now “holding talks”, presumably in an attempt to keep the relationship smouldering.
Such a volatile partnership is nothing new and Weymouth must now seriously weigh up whether Condor really is indispensable or whether it should be cut adrift to carry out its threat to go to Poole.
Moving to the eastern port is not in Condor’s interests because of weather and fuel consumption problems which make it a poorer commercial prospect not least because Condor will face a serious problem if the Navitus wind farm gets the go-ahead off the Dorset coast since Condor’s Channel Islands route goes right through it which could force very reluctant – and expensive — diversions.
But Poole isn’t stupid and recognises an opportunity when it sees one.
The authority has applied for £11 million worth of harbour works and that project includes new deep water quays which will obviously interest Condor.
So their Poole threat is not as empty as it was, but surely Weymouth has a few shots in its locker as well.
There are more than 70 European ferry companies operating more than 1,000 routes, so it cannot be beyond the wit of man to see if one or more of them might be interested in running a service from Weymouth to the Channel Islands from Berth 3 without the crippling cost of converting Berth 1.
And as if all that is not enough to think about there is the question of just how long – if at all – Condor might commit to Weymouth if it does get Berth 1. It certainly isn’t committing to anything at the moment.
For once Weymouth does not seem to be seeing life through rose tinted Condor spectacles and it has gone on record that the ferry company seems to be trying to hold Weymouth to ransom and that the council will cave in to their demands.
The council has warned that they are wrong, that Condor is “not indispensable” and that there has to be a limit beyond which the council will not go to keep them.
We must be pretty close to that limit now.