An influential panel of speakers drawn from business and local government voiced support for the introduction of a water taxi service in the Central South that could link across the Solent region at the Business Leaders Breakfast held at Southampton International Boat Show.
The panel was selected to talk about the importance of leisure marine to the Central South economy and members included Fran Collins, CEO of Red Funnel, Lesley Robinson, CEO of British Marine, Brian Johnson, BAE Systems, UK Business Development Director and Chris Rees, Director of ReesLeisure.
Host Lee Peck, Managing Director of Lee Peck Media, skilfully managed the question and answer session and got things underway by asking the recently appointed Leader of Southampton City Council, Councillor Satvir Kaur to join the panel.
In a wide-ranging discussion, which focused on the need to get more people on the water and enjoying being part of a waterfront city, the subject of water taxis really seemed to ignite the imagination of all the panel members.
Lisa Lavis, Managing Director of Glow creative design agency, posed the question and said she longed to be able to get about by water taxi following the lead of cities such as Marseille, Sydney and of course Venice.
Fran Collins, said: “There is a huge appetite locally to introduce a water taxi service – we need to bring together key partners to make this happen.”
While Brian Johnson explained that Solent LEP under his chairmanship was investigating how to make water taxis a reality when the pandemic hit.
“We need to identify how such a service can be underwritten for a while as people get used to using the taxis and they need to be sustainable.
“We have to be looking at electric powered vessels – we have the opportunity to design, build and operate these vessels on the Solent and showcase what this region can do. The technology is here and there is a potential with the Freeport and the levelling up agenda to attract government funding.”
Councillor Kaur said she was a big fan but when water taxis had been discussed before, nothing had happened.
“We have the ambition and we need to do it sustainably,” she said.
Chris Rees , who has long championed getting more people on the water, said water taxis could connect the city from Woodmill to Ocean Village.
“The Isle of Wight has Sallys and Jennys and we could have the same here,” he said.
Leigh-Sara Timberlake, Business South Group CEO, said: “Where there is a will, there is a way!
“I agree that the service would need to be under written at the outset but maybe this is something that the private sector businesses could contribute to and ask the government to match fund with us.”