Plans lodged for Forth hovercraft

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A HOVERCRAFT service across the Forth has moved a step closer to reality, after plans were lodged for a terminal at Portobello.

New images show how any hovercraft landing slip and terminal would fit into the promenade and beach on land by the Lothian Buses depot in Seafield Road.

If the plans are approved, transport giant Stagecoach hopes to start work on the terminal by the year's end, with the service between Edinburgh and Kirkcaldy possibly starting early in 2012.

&#149 Are you planning to catch the hovercraft from Portobello to Kirkcaldy?

Funding of around 14 million has been secured by Stagecoach, which has set up a joint venture with hovercraft makers the Bland Group to begin the service.

The idea could yet falter, however, as the group confirmed they were still looking for "kick-start" funding from local authorities in Fife and Edinburgh.

With the local council currently facing a 90m black hole in its budget over the next three years, and the proposed route not the preferred option between Burntisland and Granton, it remains to be seen if the council would be willing, or able, to invest.

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."

The application follows a successful trial of the crossing, which takes about 18 minutes, in summer 2007, when it was used by around 32,000 passengers. It is estimated 870,000 people would use the hovercraft each year. The terminal building would be constructed behind Portobello promenade. A hard landing ramp would be built on the beach, as well as a covered shelter for passengers.

The hovercraft itself would have room to store bicycles, pushchairs and luggage, and there would also be easy wheelchair access. The service would run every 25 minutes at peak times, and every 30-60 minutes off-peak. It would be able to carry up to 150 passengers and would be able to operate in extreme weather conditions.

Local councillor Stephen Hawkins said there was still some scepticism among local residents about whether the hovercraft service would be welcome.

"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," he said.

"The public meeting showed there was scepticism, and 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."