ON COURSE FOR SUCCESS: How the new Fast Cat ferries will look. Visit our website at www.thisisnorthdevon.co.uk to see more.
THE FERRY link between Ilfracombe and Swansea will be confirmed officially today — bringing with it high hopes of greater prosperity for the entire North Devon region.
Severn Link, the company behind the project has announced the first passenger ferry will make its 50-minute crossing at Easter-time next year, with fares coming in at around £22.
Additional destinations in North Devon, West Somerset and South Wales are yet to be finalised.
The 40m Fast Cat catamarans will be capable of 34 knots — around 39mph. They will seat up to 360 passengers and are expected to make two return journeys daily — rising to five during peak times.
The alternative by road is about 180 miles and nearly four hours in travelling each way.
Businesses and tourism providers across North Devon have long-anticipated the service as a means of boosting the economy.
Severn Link chairman Chris Marrow said: "The project has received the strongest possible support from business and residential communities on both sides of the Bristol Channel and is perceived as a key to much needed regeneration.
"Severn Link will be marketing the service heavily to national and international markets, to raise the profile of the service, the local areas and the attractions and is fully expected to contribute positively to local economies, by driving visitor numbers to the region."
Steve Pitcher, chief executive of North Devon+, said: "The potential for North Devon to increase its tourist numbers outside the high season is greatly helped by this ferry link which will encourage travel all year round from the cities of South Wales and beyond."
North Devon Council leader Des Brailey also welcomed the news. "It's great news for Ilfracombe and North Devon. I hope it will have longevity, but there is commitment there and we will try to do all we can in the current economic situation to help," he said.
Ilfracombe Mayor Philip Webb said: "This is one of the most significant events for Ilfracombe in several decades.
"The potential impact is that it will bring in hundreds of people to spend a lot of money in the town, so businesses should do better than they have done for quite some time."
Ilfracombe district councillor Paul Yabsley, who is also chairman of Ilfracombe harbour Board, said: "This is extremely exciting for Ilfracombe and North Devon. It's an incredible opportunity to get a large number of people coming to North Devon.
"There will also be some challenges for the harbour, but if the ferry is a success it will be possible to look ahead at the possibility of a car ferry in the future."