PROPOSALS which could result in a passenger ferry service between Swansea and Devon are being taken forward and might lead to a non-binding agreement, according to the leader of Swansea Council.
The plans are still in their early days, but Cllr Rob Stewart said a working group has been set up and that councils on both sides of the Bristol Channel were looking into clean energy propulsion systems for any future route.
Cllr Stewart’s written update was in response to a question from councillors Francesca O’Brien and Brigitte Rowlands, who asked what was happening.
On the working group, Cllr Stewart said: ‘This expert-led group would examine a range of key factors including but not limited to requirements of the terminals and those of the craft which would potentially operate across the route.’
But he said progress had been limited due to the ill health of the working group coordinator.
The Swansea Labour leader said the ferry proposal would have to contribute to the council’s pledge to be “net zero” by 2030, hence the clean energy discussions.
He said further meetings with councils across the Bristol Channel were being arranged “with the intention of developing a scope and memorandum of understanding for the project” – a non-binding statement of serious intent – by the end of March.
Cllr Stewart publicised the idea of a hydrogen-powered ferry service linking Swansea and the south-west of England three weeks before last year’s local government elections.
“This would be a massive boost for tourism and business – to think you could cut your travel time to Devon and Cornwall by half, and of course it would have environmental benefits too: taking cars off the road and introducing green-powered ferries,” he said at the time.
That prompted a bemused response from Swansea Conservatives, who said the idea had been developed by North Devon’s Tory MP, Selaine Saxby.
Cllr Stewart then said it was Swansea Council which had initiated the “formal discussions”.
Creating hydrogen as a power source requires power in the first place, and it can come from clean renewable energy. This is known as green hydrogen.
Over the years, the pleasure steamer, Balmoral, and paddle steamer, Waverley, have offered summer sailings across the Bristol Channel, stopping at Swansea and Ilfracombe in North Devon, among others.
Devon has a county council and a number of district ones, including North Devon Council, in which Ilfracombe is located.
A spokesman for North Devon Council said: ‘North Devon Council is enthusiastic about a ferry service that would create a link to South Wales from Ilfracombe and we are exploring opportunities that could bring this to fruition.’
Meanwhile, Devon County Council’s cabinet member for climate change, environment and transport, Cllr Andrea Davies, said the principle of a clean energy ferry link sat well with the council’s own carbon reduction plan, as well as supporting the regeneration of coastal and market towns.
She added: ‘We’re yet to see details of any proposals, but we’re interested to find out more and we will arrange a meeting with North Devon Council to understand if additional support may be needed.’
A Bristol Channel ferry service has been proposed before. A catamaran capable of taking 360 passengers was planned by a company called Severn Link, with trips taking 50 minutes between Swansea and Ilfracombe.
It was hoped that the vessel would launch in 2010, but it didn’t materialise.