AN AMBITIOUS plan has been unveiled to create a state-of-the-art Hovertravel service linking Portsmouth and Southampton.
The News can reveal that the company is preparing a bid to run a hovercraft between the two cities.
My aspiration is to get 20 per cent of people off the motorway, onto the water. This would enable people who commute between the two cities, to take that journey more quickly.Councillor Donna Jones, leader of Portsmouth City Council
The move – the brainchild of Tory Portsmouth council leader Donna Jones – is part of her aspiration to reduce motorway traffic in the Solent area by 20 per cent and improve connections between the south coast powerhouses.
The senior councillor has convinced Hovertravel – which runs a hovercraft service between Southsea and the Isle of Wight – that the plan could reap major benefits.
So the 51-year-old firm is now working up a business case for the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership in the hope it will be able to secure government funding for the project to make it a reality.
The service could potentially run from Southsea to a landing pad near Southampton’s Red Funnel Terminal, though talks over where passengers would go to and from are still ongoing.
Cllr Jones says a study has indicated the average journey between the cities could take 28 minutes.
And she believes a 12-month trial could happen using two Hovertravel 135-seater craft that are currently not in operation, giving people enough time to change their travel habits and allow the project to bed in.
Cllr Jones said: ‘My aspiration is to get 20 per cent of people off the motorway and on to the water.
‘This would enable people who commute between the two cities to make that journey more quickly.
‘It would also be a huge boost for businesses who use the motorway as they would be able to get goods and services moved across the Solent far easier.
‘It’s an exciting idea and we as civic leaders need to be pushing boundaries and making connections with the right people and getting things moved forward.
‘One of the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership’s key, strategic priorities is the east/west connectivity, which at the moment is very, very poor. This really helps with that.
She added: ‘We need to start using the water a lot more. When I think about Portsmouth in terms of where it could be in 50 years’ time, I look to places like Hong Kong and its great water travel.’
No decisions have yet been made as to whether the hovercraft journey would include stops at other areas.
In a statement, Hovertravel managing director Neil Chapman said: ‘Hovertravel can confirm it is in discussions with various parties, regarding both the feasibility and the longevity of a route between Portsmouth and Southampton.
‘These discussions are in the very early stages and Hovertravel looks forward to working with the local councils during these initial stages.’
Hovertravel added it would consider any plans for more routes which have the potential for ‘longevity’.
Cllr Sean Woodward, Fareham Borough Council leader, believes the Daedalus site would be a good drop-off point along the proposed route.
Cllr Woodward said: ‘This idea is something I brought up at an LEP meeting. You can get to the Isle of Wight and abroad on water, but that coastal link has always seemed to be a completely wasted opportunity. I particularly see Daedalus, with its slipway, as being a potential stop-off.’
The move comes after Hovertravel unveiled two new state-of-the-art passenger hovercraft – Solent Flyer and Island Flyer – which were given their names by Portsmouth-based Olympic sailing legend Sir Ben Ainslie.
THE MP for Portsmouth South says Hovertravel’s bid to expand and provide a water service between Portsmouth and Southampton has ‘her full support’.
Mrs Drummond believes improving connections between the two cities is vital if the Solent economy is to improve.
Mrs Drummond said: ‘Anything that improves connectivity between Southampton and Portsmouth has my full support.
‘Obviously, we are looking at the railway and light rail, but this is another way of looking at transport between the two cities.
‘It’s a good idea.
‘At the moment, our Gross value added is below what it should be.
‘It’s one of the reasons why I am so focused on improving transport.
‘We need to improve that.
Mrs Drummond added: ‘We are going to have all of these new houses, the M27 is chock-a-block.
‘We have got to find other ways of getting around.
‘The east/west connectivity, as well as going up to London, is important.
‘It attracts industry and investment.’
Councillor Mark Hook, the leader of Gosport Borough Council, has also backed the scheme.
He believes it is yet another way of getting more cars off the congested road network – but also believes it’s important that there’s good onward travel connections wherever the hovercraft landing strips are set up.
Cllr Hook said: ‘It think it would be a good step.
‘As ever, it will be depending on where the hovercraft will set off from and go to.
‘Connectivity at the other end is the important bit.
‘I would imagine in Portsmouth that landing site would be near the interchange, and it’s important that where it would end up in Southampton there is onward mobility.
‘So it’s worth looking into, and hopefully will be feasible.
‘There are so many people in Gosport commuting daily for work.
‘If we can take some of those cars off the road, then that would help.
‘Anything that helps to reduce traffic on the road is a good thing.’