THE River Clyde could be restored to its bustling heyday, with ferries criss-crossing through Glasgow and on to outlying towns in Renfrewshire under a bold new plan to be unveiled this week.
Business and municipal leaders say the 10m idea would put Glasgow’s largely unused waterfront on a par with cities like Paris, Brisbane and Stockholm and regenerate riverside communities, as well as being a major tourist attraction.
A new study has identified 10 stops from Glasgow city centre out west to Erskine which could be serviced by high-speed, low-wake catamaran ferries.
They would run every 20 minutes and would eventually attract 900,000 passengers a year, according a report from Professor Alfred Baird, the head of the maritime research unit at Napier University.
Commuters as well as tourists could take the 40-minute journey along the eight-and-a-half-mile stretch of water from the Broomielaw, in the city centre, to Atlantic Quay, the Quay, the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre, Pacific Quay, Glasgow harbour, Braehead, Renfrew, Clydebank and Erskine.
The plan, commissioned by Scottish Enterprise, would restore the Clyde to its heyday of the 1960s when thousands of Glaswegians travelled daily on the ferries. The Clyde Tunnel and the Kingston Bridge led to a rapid decline of ferry traffic, and today the only services are a short hop from Renfrew to Yoker and the summer season Pride of the Clyde from the city centre to Braehead.
Prof Baird will unveil his proposals at a Firth of Clyde Forum conference on Friday, when a range of public and private-sector bodies with plans to revitalise the river come together.
The waterbus plan would be the driving force of a 3.5bn blueprint to regenerate the waterfront being developed by the Strategic Partnership Board, a body set up by Scottish Enterprise, Glasgow, West Dunbartonshire and Renfrew councils, Communities Scotland and the Scottish Executive.
Euan Dobson, project manager for the Clyde regeneration team at Scottish Enterprise, said: "We want to create a waterfront that will rival places like Brisbane and Stockholm, and it is about linking old and new communities along the waterfront. It is not just a good, quick transport option - it can link people to jobs and it is good for tourism and leisure.
"There is the potential to replicate what was there on the Clyde in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, with ferries zig-zagging down from the city centre to Erskine. It would make the Clyde a living, active artery in a way it is not just now.
"We want to put in place something that is normal in other cities, utilising an artery that is not congested with traffic. When people go to places they want to use the river and get the view from the water. The tours by the Pride of the Clyde show there is a market there for that."
Strathclyde Passenger Transport has predicted the number of journeys taken in the region will rise by 40% by 2021 and rail travel will go up by 35% in the next 10 years.
Baird says riverbuses would fill a gap in public transport, encourage commuters to park and ride and become a tourist attraction.
"Fast ferries considered optimum for the River Clyde are proven designs of low-wash catamaran which have been in service in a number of urban and semi-urban locations worldwide for the past several years," says his report. "Due to the very slender hull form of these craft, wash is less than for a similar size of conventional vessel with slower speeds."
Baird’s plans are likely to be supported by the Strategic Partnership Board, but there are no dates for the service starting. Nor does the report say who should operate or pay for the service. The board believes 1.67bn of public money will need to be ploughed into the waterfront regeneration over 15 years to lever 2.3m of private spending.
Meanwhile, the multi-agency Clyde Waterfront Working Group is planning to build a series of bridges across the river. A 30m bridge designed by Lord Rogers has already been given planning approval and will span the river from Glasgow Central to Tradeston. Glasgow Council has also approved an 8.5m bridge at Finnieston. The other bridges the group wants to build are between Glasgow harbour and Govan, Braehead and Yoker, and Erskine and Old Kilpatrick.
The biggest regeneration project in the city is the 500m Glasgow Harbour Project, which combines housing with retail developments and will be the new home for the transport museum. Situated near the SECC, it is being built by Clydeport and Bank of Scotland.
Businessman David West is in also talks about using the Clyde to land flying boats.
West, from Helensburgh, wants to fly a nine-seater seaplane from the Clyde to Arran, Bute and the Highlands. It would berth near the SECC or Tall Ship.
He is in negotiations with the Civil Aviation Authority about introducing between five and seven flights a day to locations such as Rothesay, Arran, Inveraray or Lochgilphead for a single fare of about 40.
Isabel Glasgow, of Scottish Natural Heritage, who will chair the Firth of Clyde Forum this week, said: "We hope this conference will be a significant step in returning the Clyde to its heyday as a vibrant transport link.
"Many organisations have plans for the Clyde, including local authorities, Clydeport and ferry operators. For the first time the conference will bring everyone together on one day, in one place, to discuss how to make full and integrated use of the river. With the support of the Clyde communities I hope that we can then find a way to turn the dream into reality."
A Glasgow City Council spokesman said: "This appears to be an idea well worth looking at. The council, in the past, has given support to potential ferry operators who want to bring ferry services into Glasgow, and we would be more than happy to talk about this."