CAMPAIGNERS have lost the latest round of their fouryear battle to halt Wightlink’s new cross- Solent ferries.

The Lymington River Association (LRA) had sought a judicial review of the Government’s decision to support the outcome of a 2011 planning inquiry that gave Wightlink permission to continue using its W-class vessels.

The LRA’s stand sparked claims that it was threatening the future of the Lymington to Yarmouth route and the jobs of ferry staff.

Now the High Court has ruled in Wightlink’s favour, saying the association failed to mount its challenge within the six weeks allowed.

The new vessels, which are larger and more powerful than their predecessors, have been opposed by the LRA and other objectors on environmental grounds. Wightlink’s chief executive, Russell Kew, said the court’s decision followed a long legal battle that had cost the company millions.

“Wightlink has had to invest more than £3.5m simply to defend plans and decisions which have consistently been ruled appropriate,” he said.

“Wightlink takes its environmental responsibilities extremely seriously.

“Our habitat creation works provide mitigation in excess of even the most precautionary assessments of the impact our ferry operation might have.”

Mr Kew said the company’s environmental management measures had the full support of key organisations including Natural England and the Environment Agency.

He added: “The LRA is the only body which failed to engage with Wightlink throughout the process, preferring lengthy legal processes which have cost taxpayers money, and diverted Wightlink investment.

“We hope this marks the end of these vexation claims, which have brought uncertainty to the route and threatened the jobs of our staff.”

Last night a LRA spokesman was unavailable for comment.

A statement on its website says: “The LRA believes that a smaller, faster, cheaper ferry is needed. A smaller ferry will be less environmentally damaging.”