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Question mark over Link road as Dublin ferries sail away

John Freeman
A local transport campaign group is again questioning the County Council's determination to push through the Heysham link road, despite the bad news for workers that more ferries will now no longer operate at the ports.

A review of Irish Sea Roll-on Roll-off freight ferry services by the Danish DFDS shipping line has resulted in it axing its Heysham-Dublin route, despite saying last month that the route would be kept open.

It was to have taken three months to decide the future of both its Dublin to Heysham and Birkenhead routes but a decision to axe them was announced this week and the Heysham service ends at the end of January, when three DFDS ships leave the Irish Sea.

In December, DFDS sold their Northern Irish routes, which they inherited when they acquired Norfolkline, to Stena Line who also took over the office facilities and some staff who worked alongside retained DFDS employees whilst keeping their existing conditions of employment. The Handy Shipping Guide reports unions claim that ending the two services will result in up to 200 staff being laid off, 140 crew and around 50 shore based employees in Dubin, plus additional cancellations to existing supply contracts.

In a statement, DFDS told virtual-lancaster no UK staff are affected by the closure, saying it has not been possible to develop a business plan that would lead to a significant result improvement within a reasonable period of time that could have saved the route. Likewise, it has not been possible to achieve a sale of the activities.

The Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union met with members this week and said in a statement they viewed this as a most serious development for the Dublin Port and Docks and its workforce and for the crews and other employees of DFDS. 

DFDS blames a sharp fall in revenue mainly on "overcapacity between Britain and Ireland", a view supported by SIPTU. "This decision is a direct result of the policy of over-issuing licences to shipping companies which has resulted in ship owners driving down wages and conditions below the legal minimum wage and safety standards," feels SIPTU official Ken Fleming. "DFDS and its employees in Ireland appear to be the latest casualty of this race to the bottom.”

“It is with deep regret that we close these routes," said Niels Smedegaard, chief executive of DFDS. "Despite an impressive effort from employees and a very comprehensive analysis of the market and evaluation of turnaround scenarios we have not succeeded in developing viable solutions for the routes.”

Now, Transport Solutions for Lancaster and Morecambe is urging Lancashire County Council and the government to look again at the viability of the proposed Link Road.

"It's madness throwing scarce public money at the fortunes of Heysham Port when there is overcapacity on the north sea routes,” said David Gate, chair of the group. “It shows how pie in the sky Lancashire County Council’s economic case for building the Heysham M6 Link road really is.

"The County is reportedly slashing £180 in services and jobs, and yet it can miraculously find millions to speculate on an HGV-generating road scheme.

"Interestingly, the port owners have not sought to develop their existing rail connection," he notes. "DFDS have evaluated turnaround scenarios, presumably including what if the Link road were built, and they still can't see a viable solution.

"The £140 million Link road has expensive white elephant written all over it. Let’s hope the coalition government will focus on north Lancashire and sail away from funding the Link road."

A £30 million integrated package of transport measures, prepared by expert consultants Faber Maunsell, to address traffic congestion in Lancaster and Morecambe, remains gathering dust on council office desks.

Transport Solutions for Lancaster and Morecambe

HM6L Review and Proposal 10th September 2010 (PDF)
HM6L proposal appendix 1 FM measures summary (PDF)
HM6L proposal appendix 2 Additional Comments (PDF)
HM6L proposal appendix 3 Rail Improvements (PDF)