Government officials looking at earlier morning ferry crossings

Government officials looking at earlier morning ferry crossings

10 April 2019

OFFICIALS from a leading government department are taking a fresh look at the potential for introducing an earlier morning sailing from Portaferry to Strangford.

A public consultation on plans for an earlier sailing across Strangford Lough in 2016 resulted in the move being shelved, but it has emerged that Department for Infrastructure officials are now taking a fresh look at the proposal.

The new has been confirmed by the government department’s permanent secretary, Katrina Godfrey, in a letter to Newry, Mourne and Down Council.

She said officials are exploring how an additional sailing before 7.45am can be facilitated and comply with working time directives and noise regulations “bearing in mind the need to ensure affordability in an exceptionally tight public expenditure climate”.

Ms Godfrey also confirmed that officials recognised political and community concern about traffic congestion in the heart of Strangford caused by drivers wishing to board the ferry, especially during high demand which includes Easter, bank holidays and over the summer.

The permanent secretary confirmed officials are exploring what she described as “enhancement measures” that include additional resource to manage a marshalling area for vehicles. But Ms Godfrey made it clear that this is not a viable option on a long term basis.

Her letter adds: “The current marshalling area cannot operate as a self-policing facility due to restrictions of the road infrastructure within Strangford village.

“We are currently exploring alternative arrangements to facilitate queueing vehicles and have agreed to work with Newry, Mourne and Down Council to bring forward options on this matter for consultation after the local elections.”

At the start of the year, politicians on both sides of Strangford Lough joined forces to help improve the busy waterways’s ferry crossing and address local concern.

As part of a new initiative, they met with the area’s most senior roads official who is responsible for the service with two key issues dominating the agenda — an earlier morning sailing from Portaferry and the congestion in Strangford village caused by ferry traffic.

Councillor Dermot Curran has welcomed the commitment to investigate both areas of concern, explaining that the congestion in Strangford is particularly acute at times which impacts on residents and businesses.

He said locals are keen to see drivers wishing to board the ferry using a dedicated lane which runs alongside the ferry terminal, with additional finance provided to enable staff to ensure the lane is used to combat the congestion problem.

Cllr Curran continued: “There is a need for an earlier morning sailing from Portaferry to meet the needs of people heading for work. The first sailing is always busy and many are left frustrated if they are not able to make it.”

It was reported recently that some workers are forced to leave their car in Strangford all week and travel as foot passengers on the first morning crossing from Portaferry to make sure they get across the waterway and on to their place of work.

“There is a clear need for the earlier sailing and I fully recognise the need to ensure this does not create an unnecessary convenience residents when the ferry’s engines are started. The vessels which provide the crossing are both berthed in Strangford overnight,” said Cllr Curran.

He added: “It is important moving forward that we meet the needs of commuters, residents and business owners and come up with a solution that is agreeable to all. 

“Congestion is a major issue given that vehicles can, at times, be queued from the ferry terminal back as far as St Joseph’s Primary School at the Downpatrick Road which has a significant impact on village life.”