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Saturday, 19 April 2014

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Hovercraft link ‘will bring 76 jobs to area’

AMBITIOUS plans for a £10m hovercraft link between Barrow and Blackpool have moved a step forward.

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

In June the Evening Mail revealed how the firm planned to launch an 18-minute foot passenger service across Morecambe Bay.

The service, with up to 14 return crossings a day, would have two vessels carrying a maximum of 84 passengers each. It could attract up to 350,000 passengers in its first year.

The scheme would involve an investment of £9.5m and include onshore passenger terminals at Barrow and Fleetwood.

Barrow and Furness MP John Woodcock said: “A faster route across Morecambe Bay has long been an aspiration for the area and I look forward to seeing details of this interesting plan.

“Improving transport links to Furness is a vital step to creating and securing jobs, attracting inward investment and stimulating tourism.”

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

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.

Stuart Livesey, a consultant to Hovercraft Services UK, 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, particularly in the summer months.

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

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