A ferry service spanning the Bristol Channel could steam into Ilfracombe as early as next year. Business leaders, councillors and others have begun gearing up for a proposed Severn Sea Ferries service linking Ilfracombe to Mumbles (Swansea) and Minehead t

A ferry service spanning the Bristol Channel could steam into Ilfracombe as early as next year.Business leaders, councillors and others have begun gearing up for a proposed Severn Sea Ferries service linking Ilfracombe to Mumbles (Swansea) and Minehead to Penarth.With a business plan prepared and into advanced stages, Project leader Chris Marrow and the experienced team of ferry experts he has assembled hope all elements for a fast catamaran bearing more than 300 passengers will come together by 2009."It really is inevitable and if we don't do it, someone else will," he said. "It has to be done - especially with greenhouses gases and congestion rising all the time." Speaking to Barnstaple Chamber of Commerce members he said although a nimble 'fast cat' would make the crossing in 45 minutes, the vision within two or three years was to establish a car ferry, if the necessary infrastructure could be put in place."There has been universal support from almost everywhere on both sides of the channel," said Chris, who has operated ferries in the Orkney Isles and a fleet of ships on Lake Malawi in Africa.The business plan, "based on the absolute minimum number of people", has been scrutinised by the eminent Welsh academic Professor Brian Morgan, who described it as "very robust."An economic study by South West Tourism estimated that 100,000 extra visitors per year and 25,000 "staying trips" would see more than £9 million pour into the local economy. "In the short term, the study found 129 jobs would be created for North Devon, with 271 in the long term," said Chris.A very provisional ticket price has been suggested at an average of £15 day return (£20 for a period return) and it is thought the opportunity to get to Wales in less than an hour would appeal to many different groups of people, from tourists and business people to students visiting home or couriers making deliveries.Many things need to be resolved before the first ferry arrives, not least buying a suitable and properly accredited ship, not a common commodity, although three potential vessels are coming up for sale next year.Ilfracombe county councillor Geoff Fowler added: "I see the ferry as a major catalyst for bringing everything together and am totally convinced it will make a huge impact on how we view tourism in the future.Robert Ford, chairman of the Barnstaple Chamber of Commerce, is also keen:"The sheer breadth a ferry service could deliver would have wide-ranging effects on all our lives in North Devon, on commerce, tourism and culture.