Transport giant Stagecoach today said it was preparing to look again at introducing a hovercraft service linking Edinburgh with Fife.
The Perth-based firm has pledged to “re-appraise” the business case for the cross-Forth service if it wins planning consent to develop passenger waiting facilities at Portobello and Kirkcaldy, which it said would be a “key first step” for the project.
Planning officials in the Capital have recommended the proposals are approved, although councillors will make the final decision at a meeting later this week.
Council chiefs had earlier this year largely given up on the hope of the service being introduced after a “market sounding exercise” asking companies to come forward found there “isn’t a great deal of interest” from operators. But today’s comments from Stagecoach have raised hopes that the scheme is not beyond rescue.
A Stagecoach Group spokesman said: “Our planning applications to the City of Edinburgh Council and Fife Council for landing and passenger facilities on both sides of the Forth in connection with a potential hovercraft link were submitted in December 2009. We are pleased that these are now being considered by the relevant planning committees at both local authorities and are being recommended for approval; this is a key first step in the project.
“However, it is important to bear in mind that a number of other factors would have to be considered before we reached the stage of any passenger service being launched. In particular, we are very much aware of the current challenging environment in terms of both the economy and public finances.
“After the planning process is completed, we would reappraise the business case for a cross-Forth link. ”
Stagecoach held a successful pilot of the scheme in 2007, when around 32,000 passengers used the service, which has been seen as a way of reducing congestion on the Forth Road Bridge. It estimates up to 870,000 passengers would use the service every year.
But the company has always maintained it would need “kick-start” funding of around £1 million from the public purse for the hovercraft – which would have a capacity of around 150 passengers – to become a reality.
The Stagecoach spokesman said: “We have been consistently supportive of both a hovercraft and a ferry as potential cross-Forth public transport solutions and still believe there is a future for a sustainable sea-based link in the long term.”
The site where the pedestrian ramp, waiting room and car park would be created is part of the Lothian Bus Depot on Seafield Road East.
A council spokeswoman said: “Should any commercial operator be interested in running a cross-Forth service, the council is happy to work with them to provide as much non-financial assistance as possible in their bid to operate such a service.”