SINCE the twelfth century, there has been a vessel that has taken people across the River Thames from Tilbury to Gravesham. For many people it has been a symbol of identity and place. Somewhere, the family went out on a day excursion.
Times were tight and now people both local and global look back on sepia-tinged times when a ferry across the Thames symbolised a simpler time or indeed a happier time.
It also represented time and place. In a time of regeneration and uncertainty people need to see certain sights, day in and day out to assure them that there is a feeling of place and home.
So it has become a matter of great concern that the future has been thrown into doubt by Thurrock Council.
The uncertainty started by the faltering performance of Portfolio Holder Neil Rockcliffe at full council three weeks ago.
The Tories had proposed to withdraw their funding for the ferry as part of the budget cuts for the next fiscal year. Labour opposed this. With the Tories now a minority administration after Cllr Anne Cheale was expelled from the group, the budget was set to fall if the Tories did not amend this proposal.
Discussions took place outside the chamber. When Cllr Rockcliffe got up to speak. He said:
“My understanding is that the Tilbury ferry service is predominantly used by people who reside on the Kent side of the crossing….There are some concerns because it doesn’t represent value for money because Thurrock or Kent do not own the landing jetty on the Kent side of the Tilbury Ferry.
“Therefore we are held to demand from the ferry operators. And so what’s happened a number of years ago that Kent County Council committed to us they would be building a facility of their own which would almost take the issue away from the ferry operator being able to effectively demand their own fees.
“My understanding is that there is no formal agreement between us and Kent County Council that we would part fund the cost of the ferry. Also the agreement that is in place, again it is my understanding, that it is between Kent County Council and the ferry operator. It’s a gentlemen’s agreement that we will part fund it.”
Much of this appeared to take Labour leader John Kent by surprise. As if what he understood was an agreement had been turned into a gentleman’s agreement.
Kent County Council would not make any comment on the nature of the agreement.
Thurrock Council would also not be drawn. A spokesman said: “We are preparing a document for the next full council meeting.”
Meanwhile over a 1,000 people, from all over the world have signed up to a facebook petition to save the ferry.
YourThurrock went on to the ferry to interview the Ferry owner, John Potter and Thurrock parliamentary candidate, Carl Morris.
John Potter stated that he had had no communication with Thurrock Council whatsoever. Indeed, the first he had heard of the issue was when the media contacted him.