BUSINESSES and the local community are rallying round to save an historic Hampshire transport link.

As previously reported by the Daily Echo, the future of the Hythe ferry is in doubt after the firm running the service has admitted it is “unlikely” to continue operating.

But now a petition set up to save Hythe ferry and pier has gathered nearly 1,500 signatures, while other boat companies have confirmed they are looking at taking over the service.

Director of White Horse Ferries, Peter Lay, said: “We are not generating enough fare revenue to operate costs. There are two separate issues.

"One is generating enough revenue, and there has been a decline month on month on the number of people using the service.

“The other issue is the capital costs relating to the upkeep of Hythe pier.

"We need £200,000, which doesn’t have to be done today or tomorrow but it does need to be done.

“An additional passenger on every single sailing would generate more than an additional £50,000.

“But there has been a complete decline in commuters.

"There is a huge amount of very cheap parking now in Southampton and the commuter pattern has changed. Shoppers also shop online.

“The liveable wage and workplace pensions have also added to our costs, but ultimately we are working with the interest of the staff involved who are very loyal to us and some of whom have worked with us for over 20 years.”

Mr Lay, whose family-run business has operated the Hythe ferry since 1992, said repairs to the pier include relaying the decking underneath the train track, and replacing the train track.

Director of Blue Funnel ferries, which provides the back up boats for Hythe ferry service, said Blue Funnel were ‘assessing the feasibility’ of taking over the service.

He said: “We know there are issues, but we are investigating. 22 years ago we offered to run the service then but they chose White Horse Ferries.”

A spokesperson for Hampshire County Council, said: “There are currently discussions between the current owner of the Hythe Ferry about new ownership, but it is not for us to comment on this.

"The Hythe Ferry is mainly a commercial business, but HCC has provided a subsidy towards the cost of operating the ferry for years.

"We would consider such an arrangement with any new operator.”