£60 million investment and 100 new jobs

LANCASTER district's economy is to benefit from a huge £60 million investment and the creation of more than 100 jobs.

Two new freight ferries tailor-made to operate services from Heysham to Ireland have been commissioned by Seatruck Ferries.

The move will create a number of extra jobs both on the ferries and at local haulage firms.

Mersey Docks and Harbour Company, owners of Heysham Port, are also committing an undisclosed sum – believed to be several millions – to boost facilities.

And in Lancaster, fast-growing internet specialists Iomart are creating 100 extra jobs by basing a major new operation in the city.

The move effectively doubles the firm's workforce in the city.

The company is moving from Fenton Street to 11,000 sq foot offices in Caton Road as it launches an on-line business services directory.

A 1.5 million TV advertising campaign is booked for UFindUs.com and the company is spending another 250,000 on equipping its new home.

"We are expecting a second year turnover of between 20 million and 25 million," said Iomart Internet director Mark Hallam. "It will be a major national brand.

"The aim is to create one of the biggest and best searchable business directories in the world."

The announcement by both companies shows a significant investment in the district's economy.

Seatruck general manager Alistair Eagles said: "These will be the biggest and fastest conventional ferries ever to have used Heysham.

"They are being purpose-built for this route. They will be as big as the port can handle.

"We wouldn't be buying ships like this if we didn't believe Heysham had a bright future.

"The port is becoming ever more important as a hub for Irish trade."

Seatruck already moves 58,000 trailers a year through Heysham on services to Warrenpoint about midway between Belfast and Dublin.

The new ships, due to come into service in 2007, will increase that figure to more than 130,000.

Journey time will be cut from nine hours to 6 hours 30 minutes.

"We have been running at full capacity for some time now," Mr Eagles added.

At Iomart, Mr Hallam said suitably skilled technical staff were often easier to find here, in part because of Lancaster University.

About 25 extra web designers would be needed along with 75 administrative and sales support staff. The new offices open on March 29 when existing personnel will transfer from Fenton Street. The others will be added as the new business develops