MILLIONS of pounds of funding has been pledged to launch a hovercraft service across the Forth.
Transport giant Stagecoach has set up a joint venture with hovercraft makers, the Bland Group, for the new service between Edinburgh and Fife.
Each company has agreed to contribute 7 million.
They now have to secure planning permission for the proposed service, which would run between Portobello and Kirkcaldy.
Stagecoach said it wants to run two hovercraft on the route, with crossings every 25 minutes at peak times and an hourly off-peak service. The journey will take less than 20 minutes and will be linked to buses on both sides of the Firth of Forth.
Stagecoach Group chief executive Brian Souter said: "We believe it is important to maintain the momentum behind the project and we are delighted to have a joint venture partner and significant private sector funding now in place.
"This is a further step forward. Securing planning permission is a critical element of the project and we will be looking to progress this while continuing our discussions on public sector support."
The news follows a successful trial of the service in summer 2007, which was used by around 32,000 passengers.
An estimated 870,000 passengers will use the hovercraft every year after it is set up.
Stagecoach has agreed "heads of terms" – the stage before a final contract – with the Bland Group which owns hovercraft manufacturer Griffon Hoverwork and Hovertravel, the hovercraft service that links Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight. The firms are due to submit planning applications to Edinburgh and Fife councils before the end of the year.
They will hold consultation meetings with communities on both sides of the Forth before they submit the applications, which will set out plans to use Stagecoach's former bus depot in Invertiel, Kirkcaldy, and land adjacent to the Lothian Buses depot in Seafield Road, Portobello, for departures and arrivals.
The planning documents include details of landing ramps, passenger terminals, maintenance facilities and car parking for a permanent service.
The 14m would cover the majority of the project costs, while the firms are discussing with local authorities and South East of Scotland Transport Partnership about the use of public sector funding.
James Gaggero, chairman of Bland Group, said: "We look forward to working with Stagecoach and the planning authorities to introduce commercial hovercraft to Scotland."
Stagecoach said it also supports a proposed passenger ferry between Burntisland and Granton.