THERE are fears for the future of the Newhaven Dieppe ferry after the contract for the route was torn up.

Danish company DFDS, who run the service, will cease operations in the summer after Eurotunnel won a long-running legal challenge.

A future operator will be sought through a public tender, although there is no guarantee a ferry provider will be interested.

The crossing has been the subject of a legal dispute since 2010, with Eurotunnel arguing the Newhaven link should not continue with the help of public money.

The route is owned by the French regional council in Dieppe and managed by Syndicat Mixte de Promotion de l'Activité Transmanche (SMPAT), a public organisation.

It is subsidised by the French authorities and in December last year funding was confirmed until at leat the end of 2017.

Eurotunnel argue the agreement is contrary to the principle of freedom of trade and industry and claim there is no public interest in maintaining the route.

The case was heard at a French court of appeal in January when judges cleared SMPAT to continue running the route with a private operator.

However, the court upheld one of Eurotunnel's contract issues regarding compensation and as such judges deemed the contract should be reclassified.

As such, DFDS's 2006 contract was said to be invalid and judges ordered it be terminated.

SMPAT bosses have said they will appeal against the decision but in the meantime draw up a new contract and issue an invitation to tender.

A spokesman said: "DFDS will continue to operate the ferry route under the current conditions.

"Its commitments to staff, service providers and suppliers as well as its clients, users of the Dieppe Newhaven line, will continue."

Deputy mayor of Newhaven, Paul Boswell, said there were concerns, especially given the possibility of Britain leaving the European Union.

He said: "If we vote to leave they could take away the subsidies which would leave us in trouble.

"The ferry link is so important to the town, it is difficult to imagine Newhaven without it. But I am confident another company will be attracted to the route. Last year was the most successful for the crossing."

Maria Caulfield, MP for Lewes, played down the ruling, stating it was a mere legal technicality.

She said: "Eurotunnel felt the point was not clear enough so it has to be changed.

"I don't think the future of the ferry is in doubt. There's always been interest from other operators."

Although it is expected DFDS will be invited to tender in the summer, a spokesman yesterday said it would only put itself forward if "the conditions are right".

Eurotunnel did not respond to The Argus's request for comment.


THERE has been a ferry service between Newhaven and Dieppe for more than 150 years.

But with a much shorter crossing down the road in Dover, the route has had to endure some choppy waters.

P&O Stena Line ran the crossing up until 1998 when the company decided to concentrate on its Dover to Calais links.

Transmanche Ferries was formed after P&O pulled out and a high-speed passenger service called Hoverspeed took over in April 1999.

However this service ended in 2004.

Conventional passenger-vehicle freight ferries returned in 2001 and in 2006 the French authorities ran a concession to find a tender to run the crossing.

LD Lines was selected and continued until 2012 when the company joined with DFDS and was renamed DFDS Seaways.

The company has received subsidies from French authorities to run the service, which bosses claim are vital for its viability.

In 2013 it was expected funding would be cut and as such there were fears for the future of the service and even Newhaven Port itself.

Funding was continued only for a contract dispute between DFDS and cross-Channel authorities in 2014 to put the service at risk once more.

But in the November a year extension was signed and the service was again given a reprieve.

The following August French authorities stepped in and promised to subsidise the service until March 2016.

Then in December of last year, the French further indicated their commitment to the route by promising funding until the end of 2017. 

Going into this year the crossing had been secure as it had been for some years.

However, the termination of DFDS’s contract throws the future of the crossing into doubt once more.