A Vital Link Between Island and City Life

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In conversation

Kevin George

CEO Red Funnel

Standing on the deck of the Isle of Wight car ferry, Kevin George is busy explaining Red Funnel’s plans to provide additional capacity and an improved customer experience between Southampton and the Isle of Wight.

In 2016, Red Funnel carried more than 850,000 vehicles. They see that number growing and while the vessels and staff are up to speed, the shore side considerations have proved more tricky to manoeuvre.

Red Funnel’s CEO, Kevin explained: “The challenge is that as we grow, we have capacity on the ships but not in the terminals – we need bigger terminals in Southampton and East Cowes.”

Red Funnel are progressing their plans and Kevin said: “As part of the Royal Pier Waterfront development in Southampton, we will be moving to Trafalgar Dock and moving our headquarters from Bugle Street to sit above the new terminal.

“Planning permission has been granted and we aim to be in our new home by the first quarter of 2019.”

The scheme has seen partnership working coming together to benefit not only Red Funnel but the owners of the Port of Southampton, ABP and cruise line Carnival.

“Parking is an important consideration and we are working with ABP and Carnival on an innovative design for a multi-storey car park. It has been a great example of businesses working together to solve an issue,” he said.

The Royal Pier development represents a major opportunity to create an exciting and world-class waterfront for Southampton. Landowners Southampton City Council, Associated British Ports and Crown Estates are working with Royal Pier Waterfront Ltd to bring the development forward (read Director of Growth, Mike Harris’s thoughts on the development).

Red Funnel’s proposals are not restricted to Southampton. Their multi-million pound plans to move an existing terminal in East Cowes have so far failed to win permission. Back in September 2015, the Isle of Wight Planning Committee argued the proposed new home on the Venture Quays site should be retained as employment land. Red Funnel has launched an appeal and hope to know the result by the spring. Kevin admitted he is frustrated with the decision but determined to find a way to make the development happen.

“For 20 years there have been plans to regenerate the town centre of East Cowes.

“Planning permission has been granted and we aim to be in our new home by the first quarter of 2019.”

The plan was originally developed by the South East Enterprise Development Agency (SEEDA) and the vision included a new retail development, a medical centre and marina.

“A key part of the plan was the relocation of the terminal from the town centre to Venture Quays.

The current site is divided by a public road and in busy periods such as the summer holidays, Easter and Christmas we overflow and cause congestion.

This means we struggle to maintain a punctual service.

“Naturally we are frustrated. We are looking to invest £10m in East Cowes to bring forward a terminal that will deliver a better customer experience, relieve traffic congestion and give East Cowes the town centre it needs,” he said.

The Southampton based company has been providing ferry services between the Isle of Wight and Southampton for the past 155 years. While their roots may be in the Victorian era, their modern fleet has all the mod cons including Wi-Fi and mobile phone charging points.

Today they have three high-speed catamarans taking passengers to West Cowes and three vehicle ferries going into East Cowes.

Kevin joined the business in 2014. He came from the airline industry and was CEO of Monarch Airlines before moving to Red Funnel.

He displays a calm and measured demeanour that must have served him well throughout his business career.

You feel reassured that he is in charge and he has a clear idea of the journey ahead for Red Funnel.

He has overseen the refurbishment of two of their three car ferries at a cost of £2.3m per vessel.

“The challenge is that as we grow, we have capacity on the ships but not in the terminals – we need bigger terminals in Southampton and East Cowes.”

 The upgrade created more seating and enabled them to update the décor and do quirky things like designate a child and pet friendly lounge for the busy school holiday period.

The pride in Kevin George’s eyes is palpable as he talks about their decision in 2014 to replace one of their Red Jet passenger fleet – making her the first vessel of her kind to be built in the UK in 16 years.

Having scanned the world for a suitable company to build the hi-speed catamaran, they were delighted to be able to award the £6m contract to Shemara Refit LLP (now called Wight Shipyard) based on the Isle of Wight. The supply chain involved local Southampton companies including Aalco, who laser cut the aluminium in their workshops.

“In total 80 jobs were created. It was very much part of our vision to be the catalyst for helping to develop the marine industry on the Island. We placed the order in May 2015 and the vessel was in service by July 2016 – and she was named by the Princess Royal.

“We are really proud to be developing our fleet and meeting the needs of the growing numbers of passengers travelling back and forth between Southampton and the Isle of Wight,” he said.

Find out more about travelling with Red Funnel Ferries