When Stagecoach ran a successful pilot fast hovercraft ferry service between Kirkcaldy and Portobello for two weeks in the summer of 2007, it was expected that a commercial version of the route would soon be open. Not only did such a ferry avoid the bottleneck of the Forth Bridge crossing but it also brought travelers close to Leith where many commuters now work and which is poorly served by public transport other than buses from the city centre.
An application by Stagecoach to run that route has been making slow progress through Edinburgh City Council planning for the last two years. An application by Stagecoach for a pedestrian ramp and waiting room in Portobello made in December 2009. received a recommendation for approval by officials but last week, after months of prevarication, the application was refused by councilors, citing “the visual impact of the ramp and associated traffic problems”.
And that’s the end of that? Well, not necessarily. The popularity of the two-week test was largely because of the relative ease with which people from Fife could reach some of the less accessible parts of Edinburgh. Besides a ramp and a waiting room, the southern terminal needs to offer good transport links to where people want to go. That applies to several points in East Lothian as well. These include:
- Fisherrow. Closest to Edinburgh, it has excellent bus links from the Edinburgh side of Musselburgh, as well as lying within 1km of the Newcraighall and Musselburgh ScotRail stations, the QMU campus and the start of the A1 dual carriageway to the South.
- Morrison’s Haven. Although less convenient to Edinburgh, the bus links from here are longer into town but this lies within 1km of the Wallyford station Park & Ride. More importantly, it has very little habitation to disturb and plenty of space to develop into a more extensive ferry port with improved road links direct to the A1 so that car traffic heading from Fife to England could be accommodated.
- Cockenzie. This would be dependent on removal of the existing power station. While least convenient for commuters to Edinburgh (bus ride longer than Morrison’s Haven & 1 km to Prestonpans station) but, if a Ro-Ro ferry port were part of redevelopment of the former power station site, this could provide a superior base for a Zeebrugge and other cross-North-Sea services, avoiding the congested Queensferry Narrows and shaving at least 1/2hr off any crossing. The Fife ferry would act as a feeder and this point is the most convenient for vehicles heading South (1/2km to the Bankton junction on the A1
Whichever of the three points turns out to be the most appropriate for the long term, it seems very short-sighted of Edinburgh, which imports a good tenth of its workers from Fife every day, to condemn them to another decade of gridlock before another Forth crossing is functional.
Why Edinburgh should choose to be so cavalier about access by their work force is for them to ponder. But if they don’t want the advantage of developing cross-Forth ferry traffic, perhaps East Lothian, which supplies another tenth of its work force, could provide the service. At the same time, that would shorten the distance between the tourist areas of both East Lothian and Fife by half and might catalyse business.
After all, the people who visit St Andrews and Muirfield have much in common, as do those who visit the Isle of May or Bass Rock. Getting tourists easily between those two places could be just as important as getting the Fife commuters to their work and—in the long term—even more lucrative.