A local councillor has questioned whether lessons have been learned by those responsible for the mishandling of the Windermere Ferry fire this summer, which caused widespread anger and frustration among local commuters and business holders for the five months it took to reinstate the service, effectively wiping out the peak months of the summer season, particularly for those to the west of the lake in Hawkshead, Near and Far Sawrey.
Cllr Matt Brereton, member for High Furness division of Cumbria County Council and Broughton & Coniston ward on South Lakeland District Council, used today full meeting of the County Council in Kendal to ask Cllr Keith Little, the Cabinet member for Highways & Transportation, if he would make good on promises made at an earlier meeting to take on board the views of those worst affected, and to reinstate the vital Windermere Ferry User's Group, to improve communication between the authority and local residents and to react more quickly to the needs of the local community and businesses should the service ever be suspended in similar circumstances in future.
In response, Cllr Little said he would work with Cllr Brereton and other councillors to reconstitute the ferry users' group and that it should meet at least twice a year, at the beginning and end of the tourist season.
Cllr Brereton said: "It is abundantly clear that this authority's handling of the loss of the Windermere Ferry service following the fire in May left much to be desired, with the service out of action for five whole months and the entire tourist season badly hit – to the great cost of many residents and businesses, in particular on the west side of the lake, which I represent.
"Local people, business owners and organisations including the National Trust and Cumbria Tourism told me and fellow local members throughout a long and frustrating summer that Cumbria County Council must learn important lessons and put in place proper resilience measures, including better permanent road signage around the lake making it clear to motorists that places such as Hawkshead, Near and Far Sawrey can all be reached without using the ferry if problems are ever to occur again.
"I’m pleased that Cllr Little has agreed to the reinstatement of the Windermere Ferry users' group. This group should ordinarily meet at least twice a year, at the beginning and end of the tourist season, and could be convened in extraordinary circumstances such as those this summer."
Cllr Brereton wants the reconstituted ferry user's forum to be given a chance to share their views on setting the rates for annual contracts, establishing a clear and transparent scheme for compensation in case of prolonged loss of service, as well as having a say on any proposed major changes to operations such as the botched introduction of onshore ticket machines, or any future moves to transfer the ferry service into private ownership.
As well as being the member for Hawkshead, Wray, Near and Far Sawrey on both local authorities, Cllr Brereton is Vice-chair of the Lake Administration Committee of South Lakeland District Council, and helped to organise an emergency public meeting in Hawkshead at which local residents, parish councillors and business holders were able to vent their frustrations about the ongoing Ferry fiasco while it languished out of service during the peak months of the tourist season.