Hover firm crafts £10m masterplan

Solent Express hovercraft like one that could be used to link Blackpool to the rest of the North West
Solent Express hovercraft like one that could be used to link Blackpool to the rest of the North West
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Ambitious plans for a £10m hovercraft link based in Blackpool that would create dozens of jobs have been announced by a Freckleton firm.

This comes just a day after rival firm Hoverlink, from the Wirral, revealed plans to link Blackpool to other areas of the North West via a similar service.

Walton’s Coaches, which previously trialled a hovercraft service in 2006, claims its plans would bring 76 jobs to the North West.

The company is currently awaiting results of a survey that will determine how environmentally friendly the venture is.

Hovercraft Services UK, a subsidiary of Walton’s Coaches, has been conducting research for the project for the past eight years.

The plans, which promise reductions in journey times of up to a 70 percent, would see a trip from Blackpool to Southport take a mere 15 minutes.

The firm has its sights set on the same £5m 130-seater hovercraft that rival Hoverlink expressed an interest in using.

In a statement issued to the Gazette, Hovercraft Services UK said: “Our vision is to provide a high speed hovercraft passenger service, initially linking Blackpool, Barrow-in-Furness, Southport and Liverpool before expansion to other areas of the North West coast.”

The company plans to have the hovercraft’s main terminal in Blackpool in a location that will mix well with the town’s existing public transport systems.

It said 30 of the jobs created will be in the resort and there are plans to create apprenticeships in connection with local colleges.

A spokesman for Walton’s Coaches said: “We are trying to create jobs for Blackpool. “The biggest problem in this country is that the apprenticeships have come few and far between and we think it is about time that kids are given the opportunity to get into apprenticeships and learn a trade.”

There are also plans to employ former members of the Armed Forces.

The spokesman added: “You have got people coming out of the armed forces who need to be re-employed and re-institutionalised so they are not being left out.”

The company hopes to have the service fully operational by early 2015, provided the plans can satisfy the relevant local authorities and Natural England, which advises on issues concerning wildlife.

Natural England’s area manager for the North West, Neil Clark, said: “The route may pass over Morecambe Bay Special Protection Area and Liverpool Bay Special Protection Area.

“Both these sites are part of an internationally protected network of estuaries and wetlands that provide essential protection to birds migrating thousands of miles in search of food.”

The Freckleton-based company has sought the advice of environment professionals to compile a survey in order to ensure local wildlife will not be affected.

A consultant to Hovercraft Services UK, Stuart Livesey, has worked closely with the company for a number of years.

He said: “We are making a heavy financial commitment towards a survey which will determine the routes and the routes that are of least disturbance to the bird life out there.

“This survey will determine that.”

Assuming the survey goes in their favour, the company will be able to submit it to Natural England who will then be able to advise the local authorities on whether or not wildlife is at risk.

Mr Livesey spoke of the benefits the service will bring to tourism in Blackpool, particularly in the summer months.

He added: “Connectivity, that’s the biggest thing for the North West – you are connecting all these various places.

“If you are reducing journey time between here and Cumbria and so forth for people then that’s another benefit.”

The firm has met previously with Blackpool Council regarding the plans and hopes to meet again early next year.

“The company has also linked up with students from Lancaster University, enlisting their help in conducting market research.

Jennifer Peasnell, company project manager at the university, said: “Lancaster University Management School is thrilled that our students are carrying out research for Walton’s Coaches.

“This is a particularly exciting project as such a hovercraft service could make a real difference to the region.”