Dunkirk boat run aground in red tape row

A PLEASURE boat that defied the might of Nazi Germany by taking part in the evacuation from Dunkirk has been run aground by an enemy closer to home – Government red tape.

The owners of Scarborough’s Regal Lady – which made three journeys across the Channel during the desperate days in 1940 – and the Bridlington-based Yorkshire Belle, say they have fallen victim to “bureaucracy gone mad” after they were refused permission to extend their sailing permit by just four days to allow them to cash in on the school holidays.

Both boats have licences to ply their trade between April 1 and October 31, but because the latter date falls within the middle of the school half-term break this year, a Wednesday, they applied to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency for permission to extend the licence until the following Sunday, only to be met with a blank refusal on “safety” grounds.

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Both are run as independent small businesses and warn it could be a fatal blow after enduring the worst season they can remember.

They also argue the ruling makes a mockery of frequent promises from Ministers to tackle the myriad regulations which encumber businesses.

Peter Richardson, co-owner of the Bridlington Belle, said: “Like all other vessels of its type we can work between the first of April and the 31st of October, which assumes after the 31st of October the sea suddenly becomes rough and suddenly calms down on the first of April, although they do extend it if Good Friday falls in March.

“This year the 31st of October falls in the middle of the school half-term, a week later than usual, and we applied to the MCA for an extension for four days – that’s all we are asking for – and we have been told there’s no possibility of us being granted that extension. I think it’s absolutely stupid – it’s bureaucracy gone mad, it’s just a date.”

He added: “I’ve been the owner of the Yorkshire Belle for the last 30 years and this is the worst season we’ve ever had.

“A lot of businesses have suffered because of the economy but we have suffered doubly because of the weather.”

Mr Richardson said takings this year were 30 per cent down and he now faces the prospect of beginning the next season at a loss once the vessel has undergone her annual maintenance checks and refit.

Regal Lady owner Tom Machin is equally frustrated. “We are only asking for four days,” he said.

“If we are allowed to run on Wednesday, why are we not allowed to run on Thursday? It’s the worst season we’ve had and at this rate there will not be any steamers left.”

Both men say they would only operate in good weather and are appealing for a change of heart.

Scarborough and Whitby MP Robert Goodwill has promised to take the case up with new Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin.

Mr Goodwill, who owns the Coronia and leases it to Mr Machin, although the vessel is not currently operating, said: “I have asked Tom to send me the details and I will make representations to the new Secretary of State for Transport.

“This will affect a lot of vessels and probably the Esk Belle in Whitby.

“If the weather’s bad people don’t go out but if it’s nice it would be the icing on the cake after a difficult season weather-wise. Hopefully we’ll see if the MCA can find a way forward to allow a bit of flexibility and allow these vessel to ply their trade.”

A spokeswoman for the MCA said: “Safety is our top priority. These vessels are designed to operate in daylight hours during the summer months, which runs from 1 April to 31 October.

“We see no need to extend the restrictions into early November.”

Comment: Page 12.