SCOTTISH Government ministers have been warned that their intention to approve a container terminal on the Forth may be in breach of European Union law.
Campaigners trying to stop the £85 million project at Rosyth claim that proper procedures have not been followed, including an environmental assessment of essential dredging of the river.
They have also enlisted support from SNP MSP Angus MacDonald, who has tabled eight parliamentary questions on the issue.
Charles Hammond, chief executive of Forth Ports, who says the Rosyth terminal is not needed because of overcapacity in the industry, has written to finance secretary John Swinney, urging him to intervene after being refused a meeting with transport minister Keith Brown.
Pressure has been building on the Scottish Government in recent months since it indicated it would back plans by engineering giant Babcock to build the Rosyth International Container Terminal on derelict land formerly assigned for the refitting of Trident nuclear submarines.
In the latest moves, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) Scotland says in a briefing to MSPs that the proposed harbour revision order confers powers to dredge the channel that will be essential to the operation of the terminal, but “no environmental assessment of this dredging has been made. Approval now could be in breach of EU law”.
It said: “RSPB Scotland believes that the order should not be made until the environmental assessment order has been completed and the results taken into account.”
MacDonald, MSP for Falkirk East, is asking ministers about this issue and others, including current and future container capacity.
A key concern for Hammond and others in the industry – including Soren Skou, chief executive of shipping line Maersk – is that too much capacity already exists, with more due to arrive.
Hammond has offered to give evidence at two Holyrood committees considering the order, though last week’s first hearing devoted about two minutes to the issue with no discussion. A second will take place on 25 September.
Brown has declined an offer of a meeting, stating in a letter to Hammond that the National Planning Framework confirmed the need for additional capacity.
“Although you have continued to question that determination, I do not propose to revisit those arguments,” Brown writes. “This project would clearly improve the harbour by utilising derelict land for the creation of modern port facilities… and I am confident that a company of the stature of Babcock would be unlikely to invest in a multi-million-pound development if they were not satisfied that it would be economically viable.
“The public local inquiry… was, in my view, a thorough and detailed examination of the issues raised by the objectors and I am satisfied that all parties, including Forth Ports, had the opportunity to make their cases to the inquiry.”
Speaking to Scotland on Sunday, Hammond said he was disappointed that the minister would not meet him, but insisted his concerns were valid.
“In my 24 years in the ports industry, I have never seen a development consented before a full marine and landside environmental assessment report has been carried out,” Hammond said.
He said the intervention of MacDonald showed “others share our concerns on this”.
Babcock has said it would be “inappropriate to make any further comment on a parliamentary decision that has yet to be made” but it was confident that all information would be taken into account.