Gravesham Borough Council has strongly objected to the potential loss of the Tilbury Ferry in its response to Kent County Council’s public consultation on the future of the service.
In its submission, Gravesham urges that Kent County Council and Thurrock Council look seriously at their budgets to support the vital transport link for which there is no practical public transport replacement; approach the Thames Estuary Board, Port of London Authority, Port of Tilbury, DP World, National Highways (from the Lower Thames Crossing perspective), prospective ferry service operators and other interested parties to seek support for, and viability of, a longer term solution; and lobby the Department for Transport and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities for support.
Cllr John Burden, Leader of Gravesham Borough Council, said the ferry service must remain.
He said: “Economically the ferry has enabled port workers and seafarers to live in Gravesend and work in Tilbury Docks. Socially it linked the two communities of Tilbury and Gravesend together with a common focus on the River Thames.
“More than 107,000 trips are made each year with revenue covering more than 50% of the costs.
“Importantly it provides a vital service for schoolchildren from Tilbury attending schools in Gravesend, commuting to and from the communities and jobs on both sides of the Thames, tourism, and access to social, leisure and retail facilities in Gravesend from Tilbury.”
In its response, Gravesham highlighted that the alternative public transport route should the ferry service cease involves using three different buses, one of which is only hourly, and a journey taking at least one hour and 50 minutes at an additional cost compared with the ferry, which takes just five minutes.
Driving takes at least 30 minutes depending on how well the Dartford Crossing is operating and is not an option for those who cannot drive or do not have access to a motor vehicle.
It points out the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme pass is valid on the ferry service, and about 11% of all passengers use passes based on disability. While the same passes will work on the alternative routes, the multiple changes and time required mean that they are not an effective replacement.
Cllr Burden added: “Any move to end the ferry service would be at odds with the Thames Freeport initiative and the planned expansion of Tilbury docks with the jobs that will result.
“DP World and major employers such as Amazon are close to the ferry landing stage at Tilbury.
“The Thames Estuary Board is seeking substantial growth on both sides of the river, while in Gravesham, we have ambitious plans for thousands of new homes and jobs across a number of brownfield sites along the riverside.
“Cross river connectivity that is accessible to all types of user is an important component of an overall growth strategy for the Thames Estuary.”
The response also points out that should the Lower Thames Crossing go ahead it would not open before 2032/33 at the earliest and any bus route using it would still be an indirect route and would need a similar level of subsidy to that received by the ferry.
Cllr Burden added: “We completely understand and sympathise with the financial issues faced by KCC and Thurrock. Like every council in the country, we are tackling our own budget challenges and understand the conundrums these bring.
“While in these circumstances difficult decisions have to be made, they have to be carefully and sensibly weighed against the social and economic impact they would have on local communities.
“The Tilbury Ferry simply should not and cannot be sacrificed in the name of budget rationalisation – it is too important to the communities of north west Kent and south Essex for that.”