Major work to bring a cruise ship-style experience to Portsmouth to Isle of Wight ferries is progressing well, according to the man in charge.
The scheme will see Wightlink Ferries’ terminal in Gunwharf Quays upgraded, improvements to its Fishbourne port, plus a new £30m flagship with a luxurious interior launched.
The total scheme will cost about £45m and is expected to bring millions of pounds into the local economy as more people choose the city to cross the Solent from Portsmouth.
Keith Greenfield, who took over his role at the company earlier this summer, said he was pleased with how work was progressing.
He said: ‘It will set a new standard for cross-Solent travel. We have taken on board a lot of customer feedback about our existing service. It will be very friendly for people with reduced mobility as there will be four customer lifts so it will be easy to use and there will be distinct areas around the ship.
‘Some areas will be focused on business travellers, some for families and we will even have a pet area. We will have two decks with catering onboard – it will be fantastic.’
He added: ‘It will create a cruise-ship style experience. You will be able to cruise to the Isle of Wight.’
The new ship, which is yet to be named and is currently being built in Turkey, will be the largest Wightlink ferry and it will be able to hold 178 cars and up to 2,000 people. It will be the most environmentally-friendly ferry in the country, with electric power and diesel generators, meaning it will be quieter and more reliable.
Scores of workmen from Trant Engineering are busy on the Portsmouth site constructing a new double-deck car loading area, plus a dual loading ramp for the new ship.
Mr Greenfield said: ‘This means we can load and unload more quickly. At the moment we have a single loading deck.
‘It means we can load the ship more quickly and turn it around and keep it on schedule. It’s all about making this port more efficient, seamless and easy for everyone to use.’
The existing flagship – the St Clare – will be upgraded to have a two-deck loading bay.
The quicker turnaround time will allow Wightlink Ferries to put on more services, and increase its passenger numbers leading to job creation.
An upgraded customer building with cafes and indoor and outdoor seating, ticket facilities and 24-hour refreshments will also be built at Gunwharf.
The port facilities will open in time for the peak season in 2017.
The new ship is expected to come into service in 2018.
Mr Greenfield said: ‘It is a very exciting time for us. Our aim is to grow the service, partly with tourists but also with local people.’