Two of the existing four large Freshwater class ferries – aka the “Manly Ferries” – will be retained, Transport Minister Andrew Constance announced today.
The decision followed what was fairly well-known to be a ‘slip of the tongue’ announcement by the Minister late last year that all four vessels would be laid to rest in 2021 and replaced with smaller but faster Emerald Class ferries.
The decision caught the ire of several community groups, as well as Northern Beaches Council and many businesses, as well as, predictably, the Maritime Union of Australia.
Manly MP James Griffin wasn’t too pleased either, which put the Premier’s golden boy at odds with his own government. The Premier herself remarked at an event recently that “you know we are all in trouble when the teacher’s pet starts rebelling”. And rebel he did, with a protest ride of the ferry and a number of public statements demanding that at least one be retained. We suspect he was gunning for two, and now he now has his wish.
We asked Candy Bingham, the Deputy Mayor of Northern Beaches Council and head of the Save Manly Ferries campaign, what she thought of the announcement. While she couldn’t deny that two on weekends is better than none forever, she saw it as a battle half won and a job half done. They already have over 10,000 signatures to save all four ferries (and look at longer term planning options), and she continues to encourage the public to sign the official petition to parliament.
“Keeping two out of four Freshwater ferries, and running them only on weekends and public holidays is not a solution,” Cr Bingham said in a statement.
“The ferries are not saved and here’s why:
“Tourists don’t just visit on weekends. Sydney is an international city and tourists are here every day of the year. For tourists, the classic Manly Ferry is an experience in its own right. It’s probably the main reason they are going to Manly in the first place. And the amount these visitors pour into the Manly and Northern Beaches economy is huge – Northern Beaches Council estimates it at $500M a year.
“These figures are so big, and the Manly Ferry is such an icon for Sydney as a whole, that we are calling for Tourism Minister Stuart Ayers to intervene to guarantee that all four classic ferries will be saved. He would be there if half of the Opera House was under threat.”
There are also concerns that a large number of services will be cancelled as the smaller fleet will not handle swells as well as the Freshwaters, she said.
“If the Emeralds are not up to the task, what then? Once the Freshwaters are gone, they are gone,” Cr Bingham said.
But James Griffin told Manly Observer this morning he thinks there’s one point everyone has overlooked when expressing concern over potential impacts to tourism.
“I think people are overlooking that this is actually an opportunity here with the remaining two ferries: tourism operators, the Council, anyone, will be able to tender or put in an expression of interest to operate the other two ferries. There’s nothing stopping us getting creative with what we do with them.”
The Manly MP said he was confident the outcome was the right balance for what the Manly community and regular commuters cared about.
“What can you point to that makes you so adamant that it needs to be all four? We can’t have large empty boats running Monday to Friday just because they are nice to look at,” he said.
“Change is sometimes difficult,” a statement from Mr Griffin’s office, released this afternoon, said. “Some people will want to retain all of the vessels, however the decision does strike the right balance between keeping the grand old boats for tourists and residents who want to enjoy the scenic trip to Manly on weekends and public holidays, while providing a more frequent service that commuters want during the week.”
The Maritime Union of Australia welcomed the decision to retain the two vessels, but, clearly concerned for its workforce, said they wanted all four. “While these vessels may be getting older, the workers who crew and maintain them each day know there is a lot of life left in these great ferries.
“Rather than axing the iconic Freshwater ferries, the NSW Government should invest in this tourist drawcard with appropriate maintenance and life-extension programs to keep all four vessels operating safely for many years to come.
“As we’ve seen today, it’s not too late for this short-sighted decision to be overturned, and we’ll continue fighting for the best outcome for Manly, the Northern Beaches and Sydney, which is the retention of all four ferries.”
Minister Constance said two Freshwaters will see services run between Circular Quay and Manly every hour on weekends and public holidays, year round.
“Weekday commuters, who want faster and more frequent services, will be served exclusively by the new generation Emerald class vessels, which are fully accessible.”
The Freshwater will temporarily cease operation in the first quarter of 2021 while it undergoes major maintenance.
During this time, the remaining three Freshwater ferries will continue to run services.
The Narrabeen and Queenscliff will officially retire around the middle of the year when the Freshwater returns from major maintenance and the Emerald Class vessels begin operation on the F1 Circular Quay – Manly route.