TRANSFORMING Hythe Pier could be the key to saving the under-threat ferry service, a packed public meeting was told.

Developing a heritage centre and an end-of-the-pier cafe were among the ideas floated at the meeting which was held to discuss plans to save the Hythe Ferry.

There was standing room only as more than130 people attended a meeting at the Hythe parish hall.

As previously reported by the Daily Echo the Hythe - Town Quay ferry service is under threat due to dwindling passenger numbers and lack of investment.

Owners White Horse Ferries are trying to find a buyer for the service but in the meantime staff have been issued with redundancy notices.

Director of White Horse Ferries Peter Lay told the Echo in October that the “month on month decline” in passengers and the £200,000 needed to maintain the pier were stopping the service from being viable.

But nearly 9,000 people have signed a petition calling for the service to be saved, and a committee has now been formed to take control of the pier.

The committee, headed up by Peter King, David Cater and Rob Henley are in the process of registering as a charitable incorporated organisation - a step forward from the charitable trust that was initially planned.

Blackfield resident Mr King said they were looking at developing the pier which currently was putting off potential investors.

He said: “The key thing is the potential. Commercial ferry operators are interested in the ferry but the pier is a burden and liability. We want to unlock the pier and make it a better platform for the service and give it back to the community by investing and modernising it. That’s the blueprint for the future and it will give more flexibility.”

"Registering as a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) will allow the group to take on commercial contracts and employ people, as well as apply for funding enabling them to invest in the pier’s infrastructure leaving the ferry to be run separately.

Mr King added: “The heritage and history is an important part of the pier and we are completely committed to it."

“Everybody I speak to says this is a key transport link. Now is not the time to take it off the water - it’s a lack of investment."

meanwhile the problems faced by the ferry service were put to one side as Father Christmas enjoyed a ride aboard the ferry to mark the strat of festivities in the town.