UK Government accused of ‘waiting for Holyhead Port to fail’ before stepping in amid funding row
The UK Government has been accused of “waiting for Holyhead Port to fail before stepping in”, amid a funding row over Irish Sea transport links.
Disappointment has been expressed following an announcement on Friday that the Holyhead to Dublin route has been left out of a £17m support package for Stena Line, P&O and Seatruck to maintain “critical routes” between ports in the UK mainland with Northern Ireland.
This was despite calls from local politicians, including the letter of Anglesey Council, who’d written to ministers urging financial backing to help bridge the gap due to the drop-off in passenger services during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Answering subsequent criticism of the decision, including from the Welsh Government, a spokesperson for the UK Government said that the the Dublin-Holyhead route is “running effectively” but the situation is being continually monitored.
Further criticism came in the Commons on Monday from Arfon MP Hywel Williams, however, with the Chancellor failing to offer immediate assurances over financial support for Holyhead Port amidst the Coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Williams, speaking via a video link, said: “(On Friday) the Holyhead to Dublin route was ignored despite a great deal of the traffic being between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, including the transport of time sensitive goods like food and medicine, and is also vital to the economy of north Wales.
“Is the chancellor just standing back and waiting for the Port of Holyhead, the UK’s second busiest roll-on roll-off port, to fail before stepping in?”
In response, Rishi Sunak spoke of his confidence that the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, would bring any issues that need such consideration to his attention, adding an ongoing commitment to investment and intervention in rail, bus and ferry links.
On Friday the Welsh Government’s Deputy Minister for Transport, Lee Waters, said it was”absurd” to wait until a route is no longer commercially viable before taking action, urging a rethink.
While the leader of Anglesey Council told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that she would continue to press the case for such financial support to be extended to Holyhead – which is currently confined to the Warrenpoint to Heysham, Belfast to Liverpool, Cairnryan and Heysham and Larne to Cairnryan routes for a period of two months.
“We’re extremely disappointed that, despite our pleas, ferry operators at Holyhead Port have been left out of this support package by the UK Government,” said Cllr Llinos Medi.
“As the UK’s second busiest roll on / roll off port, Holyhead’s importance to Wales and the UK cannot be underestimated; with in excess of a million vehicle movements a year. Holyhead Port also sustains more than 400 jobs and many hundreds more via its supply chain.”
The island’s AM, Rhun ap Iorwerth, added there was a need for “urgent assurances.”
“We know ferry operators have faced a big slump in trade because of the current crisis, and jobs have already gone,” he said.
But the island’s MP assured those working in the industry that freight routes continue to operate effectively and that the Government is working with port authorities to monitor the situation.
“We will continue to directly engage maritime companies and associations to tackle these challenges,” said Virginia Crosbie, committing to work with devolved administrations and industry leaders to provide certainty .
“The Maritime Minister, Kelly Tolhurst, has assured me personally that she has had multiple calls with the industry and will continue to hold calls with stakeholders to discuss these issues.
“I also continue to have discussions daily with the port authorities and operators to ensure I feed back their concerns to the UK and Welsh Governments.”
By Gareth Williams – Local Democracy Reporter
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