Councillor Greg Stone has secured all-party backing from Newcastle City Council for the restoration of the Newcastle-Bergen and Stavangar sea ferry service.
Introducing the subject, he said "This motion was prompted by the annual visit of the Mayor of Bergen before Christmas bringing that seasonal symbol of the close relationship between our cities. It is a historic and an important relationship, and I know on this side of the chamber we valued our partnership with our Norwegian neighbours- we were a little disappointed that the opportunity of the Mayor's visit to December's council meeting didn't extend to the chance for some dialogue about our long-standing links.
"Back in 2008, considerable efforts were made behind the scenes to preserve the DFDS ferry service to Norway which was put in jeopardy by the recession and particularly by the cost of fuel oil. Both sides along with the RDA and the Norwegian-British Chamber of Commerce recognised the economic importance of the ferry service to trade and tourism. No alternative service exists - but there is evidence of potential demand for it to be restored.
"Connectivity is a major part of economic growth. There has rightly been a focus on establishing important new routes from Newcastle Airport, and to improvements in rail and road infrastructure. But we should not ignore the need for links by sea to our historic trading partners in Scandinavia. I would like to see the council formally recognise the desirability of a renewed ferry service to Bergen and Stavanger.
"A grassroots campaign by prospective users of the service has been established and steps are being taken to prepare an economic case for the restoration of the route. Although it is still early days, there are encouraging signs of interest in the service from operators including Norwegian Seaways and North Sea Cruiseline. The Scottish Parliament has welcomed the campaign - it is not often that the Scots are in favour of an English initiative but they recognise the benefits a restored link will bring [there is to be a debate in the Scottish Parliament next week]. More locally, NGI and the Port of Tyne are doing feasibility work. Clearly, the crucial economic factors aren't within the council's command, but the significant fall in oil prices is likely to have a positive effect on viability.
"We may not be able to support the service financially but we can and should send out a signal that we regard this is as an important connection which we want to see restored. We are ready to work with local partners on Tyneside to support this initiative, and we are delighted our friends in Bergen will join with us to endorse this campaign. We accept the amendment as broadly friendly and encourage the administration to make further progress on restoring the link.
The unanimously agreed modified motion read
• the historic and cultural links between the North East of England and Norway, including the long-standing civic twinning of Newcastle and Bergen
• the importance of tourism and trade between the North East of England and Norway
• the work of the Norwegian-British Chamber of Commerce in promoting economic ties in fields including energy and offshore
• the work already underway with a range of partners as part of a consortium called Norwegian Seaways to re-establish the link to Bergen with connections to Scotland and Stavanger.
Council further notes:
• the Newcastle to Bergen and Stavanger ferry service has not operated since 2008, despite considerable demand
• restoration of a UK-Norway service offers considerable potential for tourism and trade development
• Norwegian Seaways Ltd are now actively exploring reinstating a service and are reporting significant progress in securing financial backing and the business plan they are developing must be sustainable and financially viable
• a grassroots campaign (ferrytonorway.com) is attracting support from prospective passengers
• members of the Scottish Parliament are actively supporting the reinstatement of the service
• NGI and the Port of Tyne are supporting the development of a feasibility study into the reinstatement of the route
• the fall in oil prices in recent months makes the re-establishment of the route significantly more viable.
• the commitment made by the Mayor of Bergen and the Leader of the Council by signing a joint statement of support in January 2012 that is the basis of seeking other partners on both sides of the North Sea to engage in this venture.
Council therefore resolves to:
• Endorse the support which the Leader of Council, officers and partners have already provided and will continue to provide alongside the joint commitment made by both local authorities
• express support for the International Campaign for a Ferry to Norway (ICFN) encouraging Norwegian Seaways to progress their plans to reinstate the Newcastle-Bergen/Stavanger route
• Continue to support an application to the Local Enterprise Partnership and other funding sources, where accompanied by a sound business case and a sustainable commercial proposition
Later he commented : " I have been involved in efforts in Newcastle to support the ferry service since 2004, when I was the councillor responsible for economic development in Newcastle, working with the Norwegian British Chamber of Commerce and the then operators DFDS. There's more information about the campaign at http://ferrytonorway.com"
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