PERTH Harbour - Scotland’s only council-owned general port - could be sold off to private developers in a bid to secure a viable future for the loss-making facility.
Members of Perth and Kinross Council’s strategic policy and resources committee will tomorrow be urged to put the local authority’s land at the harbour up for sale to reverse the “accelerated” economic decline of the historic port.
The aim will be to gauge interest in the land before the council decides whether to go ahead with the sell-off, or spend up to £5.7 million on capital projects in an effort to compete for additional port business.
A report to the committee by David Littlejohn, the council’s head of planning and regeneration, has revealed that the harbour is currently losing the council £194,000 a year due to declining trade and vessel numbers.
There has been a harbour at Perth, the farthest navigable point on the River Tay, since Medieval times. Originally sited at the foot of High Street, the quayside is now located at Friarton.
Mr Littlejohn said: “The arrival of the railways in Perth, together with increased ship sizes as sail gave way to steam, led to the decline of the harbour from about 1848. Perth harbour’s decline has been more or less continual since then and now it has once again become constrained by its geography in the sense that the largest vessels that can berth at Perth are the smallest being built commercially.
“Pragmatically, the industrial nature of the harbour area severely limits leisure-related opportunities and, therefore, the council has continued to operate the harbour as an industrial and commercial facility in an effort to promote trade. Despite this, trade and income has continued to decline.”
Mr Littlejohn continued: “Historically the council, through the Perth Common Good Fund, was the major landowner in the harbour area. However over the years this land holding has diminished. Approximately 70 per cent of what remains in council ownership is held in the Perth Common Good Fund and leased to private businesses.
“There is limited scope to increase income from land and property as the council controls only a couple of small areas upon which to build, for example, new warehousing.”
He said: “The most recent review undertaken in 2012 confirmed that to maximise economic development opportunities further investment, marketing and pricing restructuring would be required. The consultation with port users also confirmed the industry’s view that until these challenges are addressed, the harbour will continue to decline in importance relative to other Scottish ports. This investment requirement, combined with the general economic situation, has resulted in an accelerated decline in the use and performance of the harbour over the past few years.”
Mr Littlejohn said: “Expert opinion advises that without radical intervention the harbour’s decline will continue until it essentially closes by default. Ultimately, the council could decide to retain the harbour and, in an effort to compete for additional port business, agree to make significant capital investment. Approximately £5.7million will be required over a five to seven year period.”