A BID is being made to restore the ferry link between the North East and Norway with an application for Government cash.
Grants are being sought from the Regional Growth Fund which, if successful, would see the return of the ferry from North Shields to Norway.
The route was axed in 2008 following competition from budget airlines and rising fuel costs, with tourist groups warning at the time of a £20m loss to the North East economy as a result.
Now a bid said to be worth several million pounds has been put together by a private firm backed by two North East councils and, crucially, Norwegian investors.
Under strict Government spending rules, the growth fund cash cannot pay for the entire project, which here would see state cash used in part to help fund the purchase or hiring of a ferry for the route.
Funding has been made available by Norwegian investors, keen to see the tourism and trade links return, and this would be matched against a successful regional growth fund bid.
If the ferry service and “business support hub” office centre are successful, it would see an employment boost for Tyneside, with the axed-route previously responsible for 270 jobs.
The application has been put together by Norwegian Seaways, formerly Albion Lines, an Essex-based company whose directors include former senior P&O Ferries staff.
They have been backed by North Tyneside Council, where elected Conservative mayor Linda Arkley green-lighted a £15,000 loan to help the initial growth fund submission.
Also lending its support is Newcastle Council, where officers have been instructed to help develop the bid document.
One of those who would welcome a successful bid is Tyne Tunnel Trading Estate-based logistics firm Aquatran. When DFDS cancelled its Norway service in 2008, it did so just eight months after Aquatran moved into its new premises.
The loss of the route hit the firm hard, as the business carried more than 1,400 trailer units a year through the port in North Shields on the DFDS service
Those same trailers now have to be shipped to the Humber and trucked up, adding extra cost and environmental damage.
The firm’s plight is one of the reasons Mrs Arkley decided to put the council’s weight behind the bid. She said: “I think we have to support this bid to help firms like this, it would be a massive boost to North Tyneside and the North East.
“There is no doubt here from us, the route would bring in tourists and businesses and that benefit would be felt not just here in the borough but across the whole of the North East, and we need that now more than ever.
“A new ferry route would be a real economic driver and that is why we have made clear our support in talks with the company.”
The third and final round of the Deputy Prime Minister’s regional growth fund closed in June. Some 414 bids were handed in nationally, with requests more than doubling the £1bn pot.
There have been 72 bids from the North East, accounting for some 17% of the total, asking for £352m. An announcement of the successful applicants is expected to be made in the autumn.