Let's go with the flow for transport

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WITH its views across the Firth of Forth, the development of Edinburgh’s waterfront represents a historic opportunity for the city. Yet for many years the foreshore has been seen as a mere boundary to the city, rather than a natural asset to be harnessed.

As technology and transport have developed, docks and harbours that were once vibrant have lain redundant or under-used. But now there is a chance to turn these harbours into transport hubs for the city and transform the river from a barrier to a bridge into Edinburgh.

Other cities on rivers and coasts prize their waterfront locations highly. For example, Sydney and Stockholm view their waterfronts not only as an integral part of their cities but vital to their success. These foreshores offer opportunities not only for housing and economic development, but for transport solutions and tourism.

It is time Edinburgh made the most of its waterfront because the area could be key to solving some of the city’s difficulties in housing and transport. As the Capital clamours for additional land on which to build homes, there is a substantial bank of it at the waterfront, probably the largest apart from the green belt.

Waterfront Edinburgh has already begun the construction of thousands of homes at Granton. Most people will welcome the development of brownfield sites as an improvement on the decay there now. The vistas across the Forth offer the prospect of desirable housing and an enhancement of the city as a whole.

Indeed, the development could make the area one of the most sought-after parts of the city in which to live. After all, similar constructions have rejuvenated areas in cities as diverse as London, Liverpool and San Francisco.

Perceiving the Forth as an asset, and creating the necessary infrastructure, would allow a fast ferry service to be developed. The delays in crossing the road bridge because of repairs are a prelude to what will happen as traffic growth increases, unless action is taken.

THE cost of building a second road bridge would be substantial and the timescale for construction considerable. While such a proposal should not necessarily be ruled out, an immediate, cheaper and more environmentally friendly solution would be the creation of a fast ferry service linking Fife ports such as Rosyth, Burntisland and Kirkcaldy with Edinburgh harbours such as Granton and Leith.

Similar services offer great benefits whether on the Mersey or the Hudson, in Stockholm or in Sydney. Studies here are ongoing but they require political impetus and public support.

Changes to the structure and operation of the Forth Road Bridge offer the opportunity to use funds generated by tolls to support fast ferry services. Subsidy is necessary as the costs are substantial. But after all, you pay to build a road or railway. There would be no construction costs for the river crossing, but support for commuter ferry services would be needed. However, those costs would probably be lower than for many rail commuter services.

Objections on the grounds of the vagaries of our weather, never mind its inclement nature, are unsubstantiated by international comparisons. The weather in Liverpool or New York is no worse than what we endure, and winter here is warmer than in Stockholm. There are boats available that can ensure not only that the river is crossed throughout the year but that it is done in comfort and safety.

Infrastructure upgrades on land would be necessary. The terminals must be of high quality and there must be integration on both sides of the river with other modes of transport, whether car, rail or bus.

Disembarking on a windswept and barren quayside is unacceptable. Passengers expect reasonable facilities at a bus or rail station, and the same must apply at a ferry terminus. When passengers land there must be a bus or train to meet them.

Previous ventures on a smaller scale failed but not because of the viability of the idea. They failed because the services did not integrate with bus services on this side of the river or provide proper parking and access on the other. Moreover, the boats were neither fast nor comfortable.

Three years after the successful launch of the Superfast ferry from Rosyth to Zeebrugge the lessons are clear. A first-class ferry travelling at speed and in comfort works - a Forth service must be likewise.

A ferry service would also offer an opportunity for visitors to see the city from another perspective. The journey would also be an attraction in its own right. Tourists to New York consider a trip on the Staten Island ferry as integral a part of their holiday as a climb up the Empire State Building. There is no reason why a ferry trip on the Forth shouldn’t be a tourist attraction.

TOURISM would allow the ferry services to run throughout the day and all year long, not simply at peak times. In addition there is the opportunity to vary routes at weekends and off-peak times to accommodate river cruises rather than simply point-to-point sailings.

The benefits would straddle the communities on either side of the river. Edinburgh would gain ease of access to an available workforce, and vehicle congestion would be curbed. Fife would get improved access to a vibrant economy and the opportunity to benefit from the city’s expansion. It would be a win-win situation for both.

The waterfront is a golden opportunity for the river to move from being the frontier of the city to being in the forefront of its development.

• Kenny MacAskill is SNP transport spokesman