Devon

Torbay commuters' two-year wait for catamaran ferry

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Media captionA ferry firm has failed to deliver a promised 100-seat catamaran more than two years after it started a route subsidised by £540,000 of public cash

A ferry firm has failed to deliver a promised 100-seat catamaran more than two years after it started a route subsidised by £540,000 of public cash.

The Brixham Express between Brixham and Torquay is advertised as a "custom built catamaran", but is currently a small fishing boat.

A Torbay councillor said handing out subsidies for the service was "verging on the ridiculous".

The firm said it was still waiting to get a safety all-clear on the vessel.

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Image copyright Brixham Express
Image caption The new ferry is still awaiting sign-off by coastguards and no date has been set for the start of the new service

Brixham Ferries won the contract in 2014 to supply the year-round service as part of Torbay Council's green travel plan which promised the catamaran.

The service started in November 2014 with a number of large hired vessels, but since last April it has been using small fishing boats.

According to a Freedom of Information request by the BBC, a total of £540,000 in government subsidies was given to the firm by Torbay Council in January and April 2015.

Image caption Brixham Express continues to promote the catamaran on its website

Steve Darling, leader of the Liberal Democrat group on the Conservative-controlled council, said: "The service is not all singing and dancing so I can't understand why any subsidy has been handed out."

Torbay pleasure boat operator John Jones said: "We have always treated the Brixham Express as a bit of a joke but to get more than £500,000 for a service which is not what was promised is no joke."

A Torbay Council spokesperson said no subsidy had been paid to the company since April last year because it had "not been able to comply with the vessel specification" in the contract.

Mary O'Driscoll, of Brixham Express, said the catamaran was waiting for a safety certificate in Donegal, Ireland, from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA).

There had been "inexplicable and significant delays", she said, and the firm had "lost out heavily because of this long delay".

The MCA said it was "awaiting confirmation that the noted defects have now been rectified".

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