THREE local authorities have sailed to the rescue of a "vital" transport link hit by the pandemic.

Hampshire County Council, Southampton City Council and New Forest District Council have agreed to give the Hythe Ferry a total of £67,500.

The grants are more than enough to pay for the vessel's annual refit and overhaul.

It comes just weeks after Hythe resident Ashleigh Mutimear began a Crowdfunding campaign in a bid to raise at least £60,000 for the service.

The campaign was launched last month after the operator, Blue Funnel Ferries, announced it had run out of money.

One of the comments posted on the Crowdfunding page says: "This vital link between needs to be preserved. It is part of our heritage and needs to be saved for future generations."

Coronavirus restrictions and a corresponding drop in passenger numbers left Blue Funnel facing a cash crisis.

Cllr Rob Humby, deputy leader of Hampshire County Council, said: "We want to do what we can to help.

"Without additional financial support the ferry operators have made it clear they will not be able to carry on, resulting in the loss of valuable local services.”

A city council spokesperson added: "The Hythe Ferry forms a key part of public transport services in Southampton and Hampshire.

"We’re delighted to be joining forces with our partners to make funding available and ensure key workers can continue to travel with maximum ease throughout the ongoing challenges of Covid-19."

The councils have agreed to give the ferry service a total of £22,500 a month for the next three months.

County councillor David Harrison said: "This is a good example of local authorities working together to help secure an important public transport option.

"There seems to be a growing recognition of the need for ferries, buses and the railway to help the people of Totton and the Waterside get around without adding to the traffic queues and having a negative impact on air quality."

Hythe historian Alan Titheridge gave the announcement a cautious welcome.

He said: "This is excellent news but as I understand things this will just cover the cost of the annual inspection and necessary refit of the main boat.

"Lee Rayment of Blue Funnel Ferries will still have to find the start-up costs before a penny is earned from initially uncertain passenger numbers.

"He has publicly stated he has run out of money so the Crowdfunder appeal set up by Ashleigh Mutimear is still relevant and very much still needed.

Hopefully the local community will continue to support this and subsequently use and see the advantages of this more environmentally-friendly route into Southampton."

The ferry has not been operating for the past three months.

Sailings were suspended in December, with Tier 4 restrictions being followed by the latest lockdown. But Blue Funnel says the service is likely to resume in June.