OPPOSITION to building a container terminal on the Forth will gather pace this week ahead of the first of two crucial meetings at the Scottish Parliament.
MSPs will consider growing concern over the need for the £85 million project proposed for Rosyth. The Scottish Government has already indicated that it is minded to back the plan proposed by engineering group Babcock, which wants to develop a derelict site that was reclaimed, but never used, for the refitting of Trident nuclear submarines.
Ministers have accepted the findings of the reporter following a public local inquiry held last year and confirmed that an order for construction of the Rosyth International Container Terminal (RICT) will be made, subject to parliamentary approval.
Scotland’s Second National Planning Framework (NPF2) identified the need for additional container capacity on the Forth, including Rosyth.
Transport Scotland says the development will support local jobs and generate substantial local economic activity, as well as bringing benefits to the Scottish economy.
But Forth Ports has led a campaign of opposition, saying research points to the contrary conclusion. It argues that there is overcapacity in the container industry, a claim supported by a number of industry leaders, including Soren Skou, the chief executive of shipping line Maersk. The Freight Transport Association is among those to have commissioned reports on container demand which points to a slowing since the 2008 financial crash.
The shipping industry paper Lloyd’s List claims the industry could suffer from overcapacity for up to 15 years.
New facilities planned during the boom years are about to come on stream in Liverpool, London and Southampton, even though the number of container units handled by British ports is in decline.
In a submission to Holyrood on the Rosyth plan, Grangemouth haulage contractor Iain Mitchell said: “I am horrified to learn that there is a strong possibility that the Scottish Government have decided to take Babcock’s application for the order to the Scottish Parliament for final approval.
“I can see many benefits in Rosyth being a general cargo port but a container port is, in my opinion, suicidal to the future of Scottish imports and more importantly, exports.”
Forth Ports chief executive Charles Hammond has forced the issue on to the agendas of two key Holyrood committees considering Babcock’s application. He has offered to give evidence in person at a meeting of the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee, at Holyrood on Tuesday or the Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee which sits on 25 September. The two meetings will not make any decisions but will contribute their views.
In his submission to MSPs he says the case for a facility at Rosyth is based on “flawed assumptions”, particularly that Scotland’s container handling capacity would be exhausted by 2013 and that Scotland would be disadvantaged economically by not being able to accept the world’s largest container ships.
“The reality is that there is no need for a new container facility and the RICT could impact detrimentally on the economy in the Grangemouth area and other ports and rail terminals in Scotland,” he said.
In response to letters from Hammond, the transport minister, Keith Brown, said he welcomed his comments on competition but was “unclear in what regard you consider you have not had fair treatment”. He said there are “limited circumstances” in which a harbour order can be challenged, an apparent reference to Hammond’s threat of legal action.
Babcock said that it would be “inappropriate to make any further comment on a parliamentary decision that has yet to be made”. It added, however, that it was “confident that the final decision reached by the Scottish ministers will take cognisance of all information”.