News that the ferry between Newhaven and Dieppe has been put at risk of closure has saddened me greatly. Newhaven is just 20 minutes away and I can be in Normandy four hours later.
But, possibly, not for much longer.
Council leaders in France’s Seine-Maritime department – home to Dieppe – have announced that they cannot continue to subsidise the service so generously. In the past ten years, the département has stumped up some €231 million to keep the ferry operating.
Yet, the service should be able to pay for itself. Three things – shorter journey times, better departure times and a more pleasant on-board experience – could all render the service profitable.
Firstly, the journey time has been made artificially long to give truck drivers their mandatory four hours’ rest. The route could be achieved in three or three-and-a-half hours, experts say.
Secondly, earlier departure times from Newhaven would help people such as me who use the ferry as the first leg of their journey to the south of France. Plus, earlier starts would also make day trips possible, and, with them, booze cruises – an obvious money-spinner for operators.
Finally, better shopping, dining and drinking – and more upmarket areas away from the truck drivers and screaming children – would all encourage users to spend more money while on board.
None of these things appear to have occurred to DFDS, which currently runs the service. The Danish company has announced that it has no plans to renew its contract when it expires next year.
So far, only MyFerryLink has expressed any interest in taking over the route, but it has had its bid rejected.
The ferry offers the only direct link between Sussex and Normandy. It faces stiff competition from both the Dover-Calais ferry and the Channel Tunnel to the east, and from the Portsmouth to Brittany services to the west.
To survive, what the service needs is better management. Axing it is not the solution. I’m sure the 500 people in Sussex who rely on it for their jobs would agree.