New fuel rules could see job cuts and price hikes on Plymouth ferries
JOBS and the city's economy could be hit by European laws which threaten cross-channel ferry services.
One South West business leader has branded the proposed Euro fuel rules "barking mad".
Now the Government is being urged to take action amid fears Plymouth could lose sailings – and jobs.
Brittany Ferries says it is facing a 60 per cent hike in costs if the European Union goes ahead with plans to make it switch to a greener fuel in 2015.
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The firm says changing to a lower sulphur alternative, such as diesel instead of heavy oil, will cost it £35million, which it will have to claw back through hiking fares by 20 per cent. That is likely to reduce passenger numbers, which could mean the firm slashing ferry journeys, including from Plymouth to the French port of Roscoff.
In turn, this could lead to job losses among Brittany Ferries' 150 Plymouth staff, and a body-blow to the local economy as fewer travellers pass through the city.
The company is urging the British Government to follow the French and ask for the regulation to be delayed by five years, giving it time to look at cheaper options.
Tim Jones, chairman of the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, said the ferry link was vital to Plymouth as a bridgehead to the continent.
Mr Jones, who is also chairman of the Devon and Cornwall Business Council, said the service was worth "many millions of pounds" to the city during the next 20 years in terms of visitors, trade, and supply chain spin-offs.
"You just can't play roulette with that through barking mad regulations," he said. "We need to battle this really hard."
Brittany Ferries said the fuel changes could hit the annual £100million it spends in the UK and the £100million visitor spend it attracts. It even predicts a diesel price hike for drivers from the uplift in demand from shipping.
The firm – alongside P&O, Stena Lines and DFDS – supports the marine pollution regulation for environmental reasons, but called the time scale "unrealistic".
The regulation, which demands fuel sulphur content reduces from one per cent to 0.1 per cent on Channel trips, can be deferred until 2020. That would give companies time to look at cheaper alternative fuels, such as liquefied natural gas, or new "scrubbing" technology to reduce emissions.
But for that to happen it needs the Government to back French ministers in calling for the delay before the end of year deadline.
Brittany Ferries spokesman Stephen Tuckwell said: "Fuel accounts for a huge proportion of our costs. This is going to increase costs.
"It is impossible to be precise about the specific effects on Plymouth but, if we are not granted exemption, this directive will push up passenger fares and freight rates which is obviously undesirable. It is likely also to lead to a reduction of services as demand falls due to increased prices and we trim capacity."
Mr Tuckwell said that could affect the route from Plymouth to France, which has daily sailings in the summer, and potentially lead to job losses in the city.
Plymouth Sutton and Devonport's Tory MP Oliver Colvile said he would meet the firm and write to Shipping Minister Stephen Hammond.
"I'm keen to have a conversation with Brittany Ferries and will set something up," Mr Colvile said.
Lesley Shorrocks, chairman of Plymouth's Federation of Small Businesses, said: "This would be bad news for Plymouth. The knock-on effect for businesses in the city could be significant."
She said the Government should "seriously consider" postponing the requirements, adding: "We definitely don't need to be dealing with any legislation and changes which might hinder the number of people visiting us."
A Department for Transport spokeswoman said the Government supported the regulations for environmental reasons, but added: "We are aware of concerns about increased operating costs resulting from the more stringent sulphur limits. We are now looking at ways of helping the industries to meet the requirements."
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