TALKS aimed at saving the Hythe Ferry are "progressing" and could result in a deal being signed next month.

The service, which operates between Hythe Pier and Southampton Town Quay, was set to end on New Year's Eve amid fears it was no longer financially viable.

But the proposed shutdown was suspended after a potential new operator came forward.

In the past few months, passenger numbers have soared by 40 per cent, largely as a result of the daily gridlock caused by lane closures on the Redbridge Causeway.

Daily Echo: The ferry operates between Hythe Pier and Southampton Town QuayThe ferry operates between Hythe Pier and Southampton Town Quay (Image: Alan Titheridge)

The service is currently operated by Blue Funnel Ferries, which took over from White Horse Ferries several years ago.

READ MORE: Blue Funnel says Hythe Ferry will keep going until new owner is found

Blue Funnel director Lee Rayment said discussions with the potential new owner were "progressing".

He added: "We are pushing for an end-of-August completion but these things are never simple. We are being financially underwritten so the ferry very much remains in service."

No further details are being released at this stage, including the identity of the potential new owner.

Daily Echo: A narrow gauge electric railway takes ferry passengers along the pierA narrow gauge electric railway takes ferry passengers along the pier (Image: Nigel Hasted)

New Forest East MP Julian Lewis said: "The Hythe Ferry is a key component of our local transport network so the community will undoubtedly wish these talks to succeed. A successful outcome is in everyone's interest."

District councillor David Harrison added: "I have always believed the Hythe Ferry is an essential part of the local transport offer.

"It would be so nice if we could get investment in the proposed Waterside railway passenger service, swiftly followed by joint ticket arrangements, so people can travel by bus, train and ferry."

The main boat, Hythe Scene, is back in action following her annual inspection and refit at Cowes.

READ MORE: Hythe Ferry - there must be a way to save service

A ferry service spokesperson said: "Passenger numbers have shown an increase of 41 per cent for the first six months of this year in comparison to 2022, unquestionably assisted by the ongoing roadworks at Redbridge but very encouraging nonetheless."

Ferry users include shoppers, commuters, and Southampton FC fans attending games at St Mary's Stadium.

Daily Echo: Hythe Pier is one of the longest in the UKHythe Pier is one of the longest in the UK (Image: Newsquest)

In a statement issued earlier this year, Hythe Pier Heritage Association said rush-hour delays caused by the Redbridge scheme had given the service a timely boost.

It added: "Whilst hundreds of frustrated commuters have spent an excessive amount of time in vehicles crawling into Southampton, the ferry has, as always, offered a more user-friendly and stress-free alternative."

The statement said almost 10,000 people used the service in January alone, an increase of 75 per cent on the same month last year.

"It's hoped that those recently taking to the water will continue to do so once the roadworks eventually finish."

Hythe councillor Alex Wade added: "There is much love and support out there for our ferry. We don't want to lose this much-needed and important part of our heritage."