20 February 2008

Cross-Forth hovercraft project halted

Stagecoach is to halt its work to instigate a regular cross-Forth hovercraft service from the end of this month until it receives clarification over the future public sector role and investment, both of which are key to taking the project forward. The firm produced a detailed business plan at the end of October 2007 outlining how it could offer a 20 minute crossing time and transport up to 150 passengers per single trip between Fife and Edinburgh.

A figure of £10 million was pledged by Stagecoach in order to realise the plan and required £3.3 million in public sector finance to bridge the gap during the first three years of operation after which, Stagecoach believes, the service would run at a profit. Stagecoach has so far spent £0.5 million on the project though plans to spend no more until it receives details from the Scottish Government and public sector agencies on how their delivery role and the funding process, which is "critical to the future of the initiative".

Stagecoach has chartered a hovercraft to carry out a survey of wintering birds on the Forth estuary starting tomorrow to 28 February as part of an environmental impact study. The hovercraft will make numerous trips across the Forth each day between Kirkcaldy-Portobello to allow ornithologists to observe wintering bird behaviour around the Island of Inchkeith. The hovercraft will also carry out a trial run from Kirkcaldy-Alloa on Friday to demonstrate the technology to councillors and officials from Clackmannanshire Council as part of Stagecoach’s longer terms vision for a network of sea-based links on the Forth.

Stagecoach are quoted as becoming "increasingly frustrated and angry at the cynical use of the hovercraft project as a political football. Some politicians have put personal and party self-interest before the communities in Fife and Edinburgh. The fact is that we have received support for the hovercraft concept from both the current Scottish Government and the previous administration, which approved public funding to meet part of the cost of the two-week trial in July 2007."

It would be a shame if such an innovative project - the trial of which proved incredibly popular - is wound up as a result of pontification by the Scottish Government.