Environmental issues could halt hovercraft plans

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Ambitious plans to run a hovercraft service linking Fleetwood to Barrow, Liverpool and Southport could be sunk by environmental issues.

The group of businessmen behind the idea, under the banner of Hovercraft Services UK, say the proposals need wider support if it can have a chance of going ahead.

Of course it is important to look after birds but they have survived plenty of other activities from boats and holiday makers for hundreds of years

The hovercraft link, they say, could open Fleetwood up to a whole new tourism market, with visitors coming in while Fleetwood and Wyre residents could visit other areas on a state-of-the art craft seating up to 95 people.

It would create 35 jobs and allow Fylde coast workers to travel to employers such as BAE Systems in Barrow in under half an hour, rather than a road journey of some two and a half hours. It would also cut time on trips to Southport and Liverpool.

However, with several species of protected birds to be found in the coastal waters of the Irish Sea, negotiations with Natural England. the Government’s adviser on the natural environment, has meant progress is slow.

One member of the group, businessman Stuart Livesey, said there was still a glimmer of hope if there was sufficient support for the scheme.

Mr Livesey, who comes from a manufacturing background, said: “We are hoping to gather support which may just help our cause, because it is difficult.

“Of course it is important to look after birds but they have survived plenty of other activities from boats and holiday makers for hundreds of years.

“We have held numerous meetings with Natural England and are prepared to vary our routes to try and accommodate the wildlife.

“We have spent thousand of pounds on consultants for the best part of a decade, trying to make things possible, but we have not been getting anywhere.

“The fact that these waters have been designated a protected area, and strict European Union guidelines being involved, mean that enterprise is in danger of being stifled.

“It is fine to look after birds and wildlife, but what about humans? A link to Barrow could help lead to multiple jobs at BAE Systems.”

Mr Livesey was speaking just a couple of weeks after another member of the group, Fylde businessman Peter Walton, spoke of his frustration with the impasse.

Fylde MP Mark Menzies had contacted minister of state for ports and shipping Robert Goodwill to try and find a way through the stalemate.

But Mr Goodwill said it isn’t appropriate for him to intervene.

Support

There is support for the scheme in Fleetwood and Wyre, with prominent businessman Steve Lynton, of the Granada Fish Bar, and Wyre leader, Coun Peter Gibson, both stating they would like to see it happen.

The group have also spoken to Fleetwood MP Cat Smith, following supportive talks with her predecessor, Eric Ollerenshaw.

She said: “This scheme would probably benefit Fleetwood more than any other of these areas, because of the town’s poor transport links.

“The concerns of transport and business have to balanced carefully with environmental concerns, but I will do what I can to support this project.”

Another member of Hovercraft Services UK, who is from Fleetwood but did not wish to be named, added: “We would like to hear what local people think about this scheme.

“With modern hovercrafts these days, our vessel would be easily able to deal with the rough tides at Fleetwood.”

Natural England’s area manager, Mike Burke, said: “We have provided advice on the potential wildlife impacts of the proposal to operate a hovercraft service in the Irish Sea, and offered positive suggestions of how it could be designed to address these impacts.

“Natural England aims to always work constructively and pragmatically with developers to enable sustainable economic development. Our door is open to discuss any future proposals.”