THE Sandbanks Ferry toll will not be increasing following a public inquiry into proposed fare rises.

In January the ferry company announced its proposals, which included doubling the cost of a pedestrian/ bicycle crossing from £1 to £2 and increasing the fare for cars from £4.50 to £6 (£8.60 to £12 for larger vehicles).

A two-day public inquiry took place at Studland Village Hall in September before Government-appointed inspector Kenneth Stone.

Following the recommendation made in his report, the Secretary of State for Transport has decided not to approve the toll increase.

He considered the case made by the ferry's owners, The Bournemouth-Swanage Motor Road and Ferry Company, which said the toll increase was necessary to cover the costs of a new £10.7m ferry. The company plans to replace its 24-year-old Bramble Busy Bay ferry by 2026 and said it had £1.9m in a 'ferry replacement reserve' as of March 31, 2017. In its application, the company stated it could not provide for the future replacement of the ferry and generate a reasonable return if fares were not increased. It added increases would be phased in across three years for cash customers. However, the 76 objectors to the proposed toll increases argued the ferry replacement reserve was 'imaginary' and was not a ring-fenced cash reserve. This has meant the reserve has fluctuated over the years, while customers have already faced toll increases in 2014, 2009, 2006, and 2004 to help fund a future ferry replacement. Campaigners also argued fare rises would have cost regular commuters an extra £800 a year. After considering the cases from both sides, Mr Stone concluded in his report: "The fact the ferry will require replacing at some point in the future is not in dispute.

"I am, however, concerned that there is no visibility or assurance as to when that might be." However, he said the fact the ferry replacement fund was not ring-fenced was a "significant area of concern". "There is no assurance or confidence that the ferry replacement reserve would be safeguarded and rise to the levels required such that the company would be in a position to procure a replacement vessel.

"Further, I am not convinced that the proposed return on investment is reasonable or appropriate given that it is secured above the ferry replacement reserve and is maintained at an artificial level not directly linked to the performance of the company's profits."

Poole councillor Phil Eades, who was among the objectors who appeared at the inquiry, said the Secretary of State's decision was "great news". In a tweet on Wednesday, he said: "Excellent campaign of opposition by many local residents and businesses. Sandbanks Ferry, think again long and hard before applying again."

Purbeck District Council had also objected to the toll increase, as well as Swanage Town Council, and the parish councils of Corfe Castle, Studland, Wareham St Martin, and Worth Matravers.