Kirkcaldy hovercraft plan set to be revived?

The hovercraft during trials in 2007
The hovercraft during trials in 2007

A cross-Forth hovercraft between Kirkcaldy and Edinburgh could be up and running in 2016, claims a new company aiming to revive plans abandoned by Stagecoach three years ago.

Forthfast, registered just three months ago, has lodged a planning application which keeps alive the possibility of creating a ferry terminal at the former Stagecoach bus depot on Kirkcaldy Esplanade.

Stagecoach ambitions for a cross-Forth hovercraft service ground to a halt in 2011 when Edinburgh City Council councillors rejected plans for a terminal at Portobello, despite a recommendation of approval from planners.

The decision, which came after years of campaigning and a highly successful trial in summer 2007, led boss Sir Brian Soutar to throw in the towel stating he was “scunnered”.

John Lidderdale, a project engineer, said he created Forthfast after feeling anger at the consequences of that decision.

“I used to live in North east Fife but worked in Edinburgh and commuted every day. Frankly, the journey is a misery.

“I was talking to an elected councillor in Edinburgh and he happened to mention that it was a great shame the hovercraft never happened.

“But I understand it was a misunderstanding. They [councillors] were assuming Stagecoach would come back with a better proposal.

”I thought this was silly, everyone seemed to want it and there were no insurmountable obstacles.”

Mr Lidderdale sought out help from Alistair Macleod, a marine consultant who carried out research work for Stagecoach’s project and they formed Forthfast together.

“Stagecoach had definitely lost interest but would be supportive of us if we did it, “ said Mr Lidderdale, who purchased all the original plans and engineering designs.

The company, which has held “extremely helpful” talks with Fife Council and Sestran, is looking to establish a service between Kirkcaldy and Newhaven, with a journey time of 17 minutes.

The onward journey to Edinburgh city centre would be created by linking a new dedicated bus service to a Newhaven terminal.

“The hovercraft we are proposing to use is a 130-seater and will be quieter than a bus,” explained Mr Lidderdale.

“The one used in the 2007 trial was 35 years old and times have moved on.”

Forthfast also intend to build a headquarters and terminal in Kirkcaldy and employ 48 people.

“The project would benefit Kirkcaldy - I think developers would be more interested in the area if it became a large transport hub,” said Mr Lidderdale.

“It’s important to Fife full-stop.”

Forthfast’s application this month seeks to extend the time required to demolish and remove the Kirkcaldy bus depot, which is still owned by Stagecoach.

Robin Presswood, head of enterprise at Fife Council, confirmed Forthfast’s renewal of the application this month would keep the situation “ticking over” but no service plans were in the immediate pipeline.

Councillor Lesley Hinds, Transport Convener for the City of Edinburgh Council, said: “We are aware that a new group has been formed to promote the possibility of a hovercraft service and there have been early, conceptual discussions about the idea.”