Fife hovercraft ferry 'in two years'

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A HOVERCRAFT service between Edinburgh and Fife is set to be up and running in the next two years.

Work on the long-awaited project is finally expected to be launched within months, transport giant Stagecoach revealed yesterday.

The announcement, two and a half years after a successful pilot on the proposed route between Portobello and Kirkcaldy, has come in the wake of 14 million in funding for the project which was secured just before Christmas.

It is hoped almost 900,000 people a year will use a service estimated to take just 18 minutes to cross the Forth.

Stagecoach has now lodged plans for a new ferry terminal in Portobello, next to Lothian Buses' depot at Seafield Road.

New images show how a landing slip for the hovercraft and the terminal would fit into Portobello's existing beach and promenade. A hard landing ramp would be built on the beach, as well as a covered shelter for passengers.

Another new terminal is expected to be built at the former Stagecoach depot in Inverteil, in Kirkcaldy.

The hovercraft itself would have room to store bicycles, pushchairs and luggage, and there would also be easy wheelchair access.

Stagecoach has already struck a deal with hovercraft manufacturers the Bland Group for the fledgling venture, which has yet to win the backing of council leaders in Fife or Edinburgh.

It emerged in November that that the two local authorities were to put a potential new public transport service across the Forth out to tender. Official studies have found that the most viable option is a ferry service between Burntisland, in Fife, and Granton, in north Edinburgh.

Some major form of public subsidy is almost certain to be required to support a new cross-Forth service.

But the two firms involved in the hovercraft venture have each committed 7 million to try to get it off the ground.

The Bland Group owns hovercraft manufacturer Griffon Hoverwork and Hovertravel, the hovercraft service that links Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight.

A spokesman for Stagecoach said: "Obviously there are a number of steps to this process, and we have now submitted planning applications for terminals at either side of the Forth.

"If these are approved, it will take roughly 18 months to get the terminals constructed and start the service, but we have not set out any specific date and are still in discussions with both councils.

"There would be significant benefits to both areas, for local shops and businesses, and so we are seeking some public sector funding for this project."

Local councillor Stephen Hawkins said there was still some scepticism among local residents about whether the hovercraft service would be a good thing or not.

"The developers have listened to some of the views expressed after the trial, moving the proposed terminal away from houses on King's Road and opting to use a quieter hovercraft, although the proof of how quiet it is will only come if and when the service starts running.

"Local people are concerned about how much the proposals will benefit Portobello. They plan to run buses from the terminal to the city centre, and so people are concerned that the area will have to cope with a lot of additional problems but will not see any real benefit."