CAMPAIGNERS have been accused of wasting public money after losing another round of their battle against the latest generation of cross-Solent ferries.

The Lymington River Association (LRA) has again been refused permission to appeal against the Government’s decision to allow Wightlink to continue using larger vessels on its Lymington to Yarmouth route.

Wightlink said the dispute had cost the company £3.5m and had also been a burden on the public purse.

LRA members say the W-class vessels are harming environmentally-sensitive parts of the Lymington River – a claim Wightlink rejects.

In 2010 a High Court judge backed the LRA, claiming the introduction of the ferries was an unlawful violation of wildlife protection laws.

But the Government later backed the outcome of a 2011 planning inquiry that gave Wightlink permission to continue operating the vessels as well as creating new habitats to replace any damaged by the ferries.

The LRA has repeatedly been refused consent to challenge the Government’s decision in the courts.

The latest hearing followed a repetition of the earlier application.

John Burrows, Wightlink’s chief operating officer, said: “The LRA’s claims have now been considered and rejected by a planning inspector, the Secretary of State, the High Court (twice) and the Court of Appeal (twice).

“While we recognise the rights of individuals to challenge developments on environmental grounds, we believe that this case has gone too far.

“It seems quite wrong that a small group of individuals should be able to impose such a costly legal burden on the UK taxpayer and on our company.”

But the LRA hit back at criticism of its campaign and vowed to fight on.

A spokesman said: “The public inquiry accepted that the ferries would cause damage to the Lymington River and that has duly taken place.

“The long-term aim of the LRA remains the conservation of the salt marsh.”

A statement on the LRA website says: “Wightlink are causing loss of habitat in the Lymington River and are allowed to do so if they put mud on a section of marsh a mile away.

“This is clearly not what the Habitats Directive provides for, which is no negative impact.”