The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company has launched a public consultation as it considers operating services to and from the Port of Larne in Northern Ireland to help boost visitor and other traffic.
The ferry company currently operates into Albert Quay, Belfast, but is investigating the merits of relocating to Larne, which could provide a service for heavier vehicles such as vans, motorhomes, coaches and freight that cannot be accommodated through Belfast.
A professional research company has been engaged to conduct a public survey, which it is hoped people who have used the Douglas-Belfast route will respond to.
The survey, which is open to all, is available online, with links shared from the Steam Packet Company’s social media channels and shared directly with some customers who have used the route.
It can be viewed at www.islandglobalresearch.com/steampacketsurvey and is expected to run for three weeks.
Isle of Man Steam Packet Company Chief Executive Mark Woodward said: ‘We constantly review our routes to ensure the best passenger experience possible is offered. We have identified that Larne could deliver an enhanced service compared with the Belfast facilities, but we want to know what our passengers think.
‘We would like anyone who has used the route, or might intend to, to share their views. We want to hear all opinions on Albert Quay and Larne, good and bad, as passenger feedback will be a central factor in the final decision.’
Larne Port, which is already used by P&O Ferries for passenger services and has been used during the TT in the past, is on the Antrim Coast, a short 30 minute drive north east of Belfast. It offers passenger facilities including a coffee shop, newsagents, cash machine and car parking, and is adjacent to a range of restaurants, shops and a supermarket.
There are bus, coach and train services operated from the port for ongoing travel across Northern Ireland and into Ireland. The port is also well connected to the Causeway Coast and to the A8, a major route which gives easy access to the Northern Irish road network, including the M2 motorway.
This year both Ben-my-Chree and fast craft Manannan have visited Larne to ensure the berthing facilities are suitable for both vessels.
Relocating Belfast services to Larne would lead to reduced sailing times between Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man, as well as allowing some schedules to be revised to offer more convenient departure timings from Douglas.
Importantly, Larne’s dedicated harbour facilities would allow for much larger vehicles to be accommodated than can use the linkspan at Albert Quay.
Mr Woodward said: ‘The type of vehicle traffic we can carry on the Northern Ireland route is restricted by the facilities in Belfast. At Larne we would be able to look at opening up travel for larger vans, motorhomes and coaches, which could help boost tourism to the Isle of Man as well as being a benefit to Island residents.
‘We would also be able to look at providing new freight capability between Douglas and Northern Ireland, which could be a boost for businesses too.’
He added: ‘We believe operating through Larne could offer real benefits to passengers, the visitor economy and our freight customers, but any change has advantages and disadvantages so we would invite customers to complete the short survey and let us know their thoughts.’