Battle for Forth lighthouse begins

The lighthouse on the Beamer rock that has been dismantled. Picture: Jane Barlow
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IT GUARDED the safety of mariners on the Firth of Forth for almost two centuries but had to be dismantled to make way for a new crossing.

Now a battle has broken out over the future of the Beamer Rock lighthouse with communities at both sides of the ­estuary laying claim to the ­distinctive red and white-striped structure.

Both North and South Queensferry want the Beamer Rock tower to be rebuilt on their side of the Forth to act as a focus for visitors coming to view the new £1.6 billion Forth Replacement Crossing, whose towers will be 166ft taller than those of the adjacent Forth Road Bridge.

The 20ft-tall lighthouse, built on a small but dangerous rocky outcrop, guided seafarers through the narrow Queensferry passage for nearly 200 years, but has been moved so the Beamer Rock can ­become the base of the bridge’s central tower.

However, the dispute could be the first salvo in a struggle over an even bigger prize – a planned bridges visitor centre to showcase the new crossing, the Forth Road Bridge and the Forth Bridge, which carries the railway.

North Queensferry believes it is in pole position to get the tower, which it wants to site just west of the new bridge, overlooking St Margaret’s Bay and the nearby Rosyth dockyard, where most of the shipping which used the light was headed. The village’s heritage trust said the Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency, which is building the bridge, had agreed in principle to its plan, but £240,000 funding was still required.

The plan involves rebuilding the tower in a layby on the B981 road between North Queensferry and Rosyth.

Trust chairman James Lawson said: “A key factor here is that the tower becomes the ­focal point of a group of information boards giving the considerable marine history of the area and its ecology.

“The tower was erected to warn all shipping of a rock hazard. In the view of many it has become an iconic navigational marker in the Forth.”

Lawson said its plans could be extended by converting St Margaret’s Hope, a nearby mansion, into a visitor centre.

He said: “Incorporating the former Admiralty House into the project is well worth considering to make the whole area, near to all the bridges, a centre of interpretation for marine heritage, engineering and the local environment, built around many of the ­nearby events that have taken place over the centuries.”

However, campaigners on the opposite bank of the Forth said South Queensferry was the ideal site as the lighthouse had been used as a vital navigational aid for the Port Edgar Yacht Club for many years.

They want it re-erected beside a “contact and education centre” being built to provide information during building of the new bridge, which is due for completion in 2016.

The centre is due to open in January beside the offices of the Forth Estuary Transport Authority, which runs the road bridge, offering dramatic views of both existing crossings.

Doug Tait, chairman of Bridge Replacement Interests Group South (BRIGS), which represents residents affected by the new crossing, said: “It would be an excellent spot to locate the lighthouse, adding a touch of historic reality to the centre. The lighthouse has been a significant part of marine history in the Forth adjacent to South Queensferry.

“This would be an added attraction to the centre, which provides an excellent viewing spot over three iconic bridges of different structure from three different centuries.”

Transport Scotland said North Queensferry had the stronger claim on the tower because of its greater historical links with the northern shore of the Forth.

However, a spokesman added: “No firm proposals have yet come forward. We continue to engage in consultation with any relevant organisations on this matter and offer assistance where appropriate.”

He said plans for a new ­visitor centre were being examined by the Forth Bridges Forum, which includes transport, heritage and tourism bodies and that the forum was considering “ideas for a permanent Forth Bridges visitor centre or attraction that is fitting for this unique location and will ­support the Forth Bridge’s bid for World Heritage status. The views of the local communities on a visitor centre or attraction will be sought.”

The tower, thought to date from the 1840s, is in store.

The 1885 edition of the North Sea Pilot guidebook described the rock as “formerly a very dangerous obstruction, especially at night, on account of the rapidity of the tides”.

Its light has been also familiar to generations of sailors using Rosyth Naval Base and dockyard, including a fleet of warships steaming to the Battle of Jutland in 1916.

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