Bid to save Dome ferry

CRISIS TALKS are to be held tomorrow to try and save the river bus service on the Thames linking Greenwich and the Millennium Dome, after the company promoting the scheme failed last week to raise sufficient funds on the stock market.

London Transport executives will examine new proposals by White Horse Ferries, the company that won the tender for the service, to finance the operation through corporate sponsorship as opposed to its original plan to raise the cash on Ofex. White Horse needed to raise pounds 1.5m from shareholders - but only managed pounds 500,000 when the deadline expired last week.

Holiday Inn Friday promised to sponsor one of the ferries, but industry insiders say the sponsorship proposals could flounder on restrictions on advertising placed by the Millennium Commission that oversees the Dome.

If the deal collapses, London Transport will need to select another tender quickly to have the service up and running in time for the millennium. The transport body will also be under political pressure to avoid a potentially embarrassing episode when Parliament reassembles in the autumn for the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, who had promised the service as part of the controversial pounds 750m Dome project.

Meanwhile, City Cruises, the company which won the second tender to run the service linking the Greenwich site with central London, is expected to sign its contract with London Transport at the end of the month. The company announced last week the five 520-seater luxury ferries will be built by Vosper Thornycroft in Southampton for pounds 5m. City Cruises, owned by the East End millionaire, Ron Beckwith, is already one of the two biggest leisure boat operators on the Thames along with Catamaran Cruisers, owned by the French services conglomerate Sodexho.

The scheme for a new Thames water bus service as part of the millennium legacy is the latest attempt to ferry commuters along the river.

The most recent was the ill-fated Riverbus, originally underwritten by the original developers of Canary Wharf, Olympia and York, which collapsed in 1993.