THE future of the Hythe Ferry is in doubt after the firm running the service has admitted it is they are “unlikely” to continue operating.

Staff have been issued with redundancy letters, the company confirmed to the Daily Echo.

Hythe Ferry Limited is run by White Horse Ferries between Hythe Marina and Southampton but has run into financial difficulties due to declining passenger numbers and high operating costs, and say they have had to pour in capital, despite being supported by a £50,000 subsidy from Hampshire County Council.

Bosses at Hythe Ferry Limited say that they are keeping an “open book” on future options.

There have been on-going issues with the ferry; in May 2016 the Uriah Heap vessel crashed into Hythe Pier injuring three passengers, and more recently the firm has only operated one boat and could not afford a standby.

Malcolm Wade, county councillor for Dibden and Hythe, said: “What’s happened is they set up a subsidiary company called Hythe Ferry Limited and they have all had letters issuing redundancies.

"They are in negotiations to sell the business to another ferry operator.

“I have got in touch with the county council and they have confirmed they will continue to support the ferry and any new operators.

“It has historical and cultural significance as long as I can remember there has always been a Hythe Ferry.

"The people of Hythe recognise its there for them and it is very widely supported and the A326 is jam packed.

“If people did not use the ferry they would have to use their cars, and the Hythe Ferry also brings in tourists who enjoy the small boat ride.”

Dan Poole, representative for the Hythe Ferry User Group, said: “It is a great concern.

"The Hythe Ferry is a historical feature of our parish and a very unique feature.

"I think being left without a ferry would be terrible.”

Peter Lay, director of White Horse Ferries Ltd, said the operation can’t carry on making “unsustainable” losses.

Mr Lay said: “We are going through a consultation period with the staff, we have had to put two types of capital into the business because the ferry revenue generated is not meeting the operating costs.

“We have had to do that twice, we are fine over the summer months but in the winter months it is a different story, we have had to take a commercial view on it.

"There are a lot of options, it might be that another operator could be found and we might consider that as well and we are in discussions in that respect it is a open policy to explore all options.”

Mr Lay added: “It is a case of business as usual for the time being and we will run it as we always have run it.”

The issue will also discussed at the next Hythe and Dibden Parish Council meeting on October 26.

Daily Echo:

THE Hythe Ferry has hit stormy waters on previous occasions over the last ten years.

For 500 years there has always been some sort of boat that transports people from Hythe to Southampton.

But this latest crisis may see White Horse Ferries finally cease to operate the service which it has run for 24 years since 1992.

Business rates caused a crisis in 2005 which resulted in an Echo campaign to help save it and a petition signed by more than 15,000 people.

In 2011 the ferry was threatened as Hampshire County Council proposed to cut a £50,000 subsidiary. .

In February 2015, a subsidiary company called Hythe Ferry Limited was set up and run by the Lay brothers.

Last year there were a multitude of issues with customers complaining of an “unpredictable” service however an action plan was thrashed out to secure its future.