THE return of the Sandbanks ferry to Dorset has been welcomed by the thousands of people affected by its lengthy absence.

But Studland Parish Council is still calling for the service to be put out to tender.

The ferry has been out of action since July 12 leaving people with no choice but to travel 25 miles to get from Sandbanks to Studland.

Currently operated by the Bournemouth-Swanage Motor Road and Ferry Company, the ferry has been at a repair facility in Southampton for months awaiting urgent repairs.

It was towed back to Dorset overnight on Sunday after the repairs were carried out and operators spent yesterday re-attaching it to its chains.

Tests are due to be carried out today and it is expected to be ready for service by Thursday at the latest.

Residents and businesses said they were particularly badly affected over the summer months and that trade in the area was down by at least 20 per cent.

Studland Parish Council vice chairman Nick Boulter said: “Obviously we are extremely pleased that it is back but the adverse impact on business in the area has been huge.

“It has been extremely inconvenient having to drive all the way round and we still think there should be competition to run the ferry.

“It is very expensive and extremely unreliable.”

He said the council has been in close contact with local businesses and added: “Most said they were at least 20 per cent down over the summer but for some the effect was even worse with a 40 per cent drop in trade.”

New parish clerk Tim Watton added: “The suspension has had a terrible effect on businesses and residents but we are delighted to see it back - it is a great relief for everyone. It has been gone for such a long time and probably at the worst possible time of the year.”

Operators initially said the ferry would be out of service for a month but the estimate increased when they realised how long it would take to get a specialist part from Sweden. As soon as the part arrived, engineers worked round-the-clock to get the ferry back to its base as soon as possible.