A transport boss was left feeling deflated after calling it a day on his decade-long aim to link Fylde to other parts of the North West by hovercraft.
Peter Walton claims he has spent up to £200,000 in his quest to introduce services which would drastically reduce travel times to Southport, Liverpool and Barrow-in-Furness.
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 impactsMike Burke
With journey times from Fylde just 15 minutes to Southport, 25 minutes to Liverpool and 25 minutes to Barrow and the aim of trips several times a day all year round, Mr Walton has claimed the services would be of great benefit to the local and regional economy.
He has forecast that the services would bring 30 jobs – and has long had has three 84-seater craft from the south of England standing by to provide the link.
But with several species of protected birds to be found in the estuary, negotiations have long been ongoing with Natural England. the Government’s adviser on the natural environment, regarding the impact of the proposed service on wildlife - and Mr Walton says he has reached stalemate.
After 10 years of trying and thousands of pounds, he says he is ready to call it a day.
“I’m 75 now and I have spent an immense amount of money on this – but I am getting nowhere and it can’t go on forever,” said Mr Walton, whose aim has been to run the craft under the banner of Hovercaft Services, a subsidiary of his long-established Freckleton-based business Walton’s Coaches.
“It really would provide tremendous benefit for the whole region and I feel there is major demand out there for this .
“It would provide a boost not just for tourism but would provide a vital service for commuters. I know for instance of people who live in Southport and work in Blackpool who would really welcome a direct service.
“The link with Cumbria at Barrow would also provide a major boost for whole of Fylde.”
Natural England say there are several areas along the Irish Sea coast which are recognised as nationally and internationally important for their ecological value.
Just over 12 months ago, Mr Walton turned to specialist consultants to try and find a resolution to the issue over routes - and Fylde MP Mark Menzies has recently contacted minister of state for ports and shipping Robert Goodwill to try and find a way through the stalemate.
But Mr Goodwill has replied that it isn’t appropriate for him to intervene.
Mark Menzies MP said: “I have met Peter many times about this proposal and have tried to provide as much support as possible. I have always felt it had the potential to be extremely useful for those people who wished to travel along the west Lancashire coastline.
“I know BAE Systems was quite interested in the project as a quick way for staff to access its site in Barrow-in-Furness.
“It has always been an ambitious scheme and unfortunately those can be the most difficult to get off the ground.”
Natural England have said that large congregations of birds - including species such as red throated divers, bar-tailed godwit, pintail, sanderling and shelduck - spend the winter on estuaries such as that between Fylde and Sefton and disturbance to them can limit their ability to feed and recover from the arduous migration and harsh winter conditions, which in turn can lead to declines in their population.
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.”