Ritchie slams Department over Strangford Ferry failures
Ms Ritchie will be writing to the Minister this morning for immediate rectification works and an implementation plan for the commissioning of the MV Strangford 11 vessel
Margaret Ritchie said today
“It is absolutely astounding that the new Strangford Ferry vessel costing £5.7 million which arrived in the village of Strangford in the summer following years in design and construction is tied up and cannot be commissioned as the ramps will not allow cars to disembark. This is totally unacceptable and inexplicable considering the efforts that were invested several years ago by the then Department of Regional Development in terms of the design specifications that were given to Cammell Laird shipyard in Liverpool. I have endless pieces of correspondence from previous Ministers over the last five years telling me the intricate nature of the design and testing work that would be required before the vessel could be commissioned in Strangford. What went wrong?
The Minister for Infrastructure along with his senior officials must now supply to the public not only an explanation but also a timeframe when rectification measures will be put in place to enable the ferry vessel to be commissioned. The Minister must also spell out what this repair and rectification work will cost the taxpayer and where the money will be provided from out of the public purse. What is also a matter of concern is that it has been alleged that the Department spent £750,000 re-designing the new ramp over the summer period. Why then doesn’t it work and what action will now be taken to rectify the matter?
“During the recent sea trials in Strangford Lough, it emerged that the ramps on the ferry do not drop low enough to allow cars to drive off them when the ferry docks at high tide as the ramps stop before they reach the slipway. What is more damning is that the Cammell Laird shipyard has asserted that they have built the vessel according to the specifications given by the then Department of Regional Development.
“The Strangford Ferry service is similar to a road structure – connecting Strangford with Portaferry - it is an essential part of the local infrastructure and provides an important economic link. It is critical to tourism and trade as well as underpinning social and educational ties between the Lecale and Ards Peninsula. The Ferry service has served our community for many years and any impediments that are put in its way simply serve to undermine that essential economic link. Another matter of grave concern is that there is currently only one ferry vessel in operation – the MV Portaferry and if it hits maintenance difficulties or is unable to operate then communication/travel links between both villages are fractured.
“There is now a compelling imperative on the Minister and his officials to spell out what action they will take to rectify the problem to ensure that the new MV Strangford can be commissioned and that it will be able to disembark at Strangford ferry terminal at high tide to facilitate the ongoing tourist, economic and social development of the Lecale area in South Down. I will be writing to the Minister this morning demanding a timeframe of action for the rectification works and the commissioning of the vessel which is camped in Strangford awaiting it’s use.”