Kenny MacAskill: Why Edinburgh needs a new cruise liner terminal

Cruise ship passengers could be subject to a new tourist tax and a new terminal could be built in the Forth to help maximise the economic benefit to Scotland, writes Kenny MacAskill.

Cruise ships are expected to bring a million people to Scotland next year

I’ve always equated boarding a ship with going on holiday, ever since boyhood summer holidays at my Granny’s on the Isle of Lewis. Yet, I’ve never been on a cruise ship though I know folk who swear by them. Too much risk of cabin fever for me, I’ll stick to scheduled ferries.

However, walking the dog up Arthur’s Seat, I’ve been watching them increasingly coming and going on the Forth. Initially fascinated by where they’d come from or were heading, I was appalled to read that larger vessels can emit the same amount of particulate emissions as one million cars – putting the trail from the funnel in a different perspective and making me change where I’d usually stand when sailing to the Hebrides a few weeks back.

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Shipping, as with aviation, isn’t going to cease, we’re an island nation and it’s essential to world trade never mind people’s dream holidays, but global warming needs tackled. If shopping and aviation are not addressed, it’s reckoned that 40 per cent of CO2 emissions will come from those two sectors by 2050.

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Until battery powered ships can be brought in, demanding greater effort by the sector is required with cleaner engines and better refined fuel. No less is expected on buses, so why should it not be on ships as well?

But pollution’s only part of the issue. The volume of tourists that cruise ships bring can be substantial, causing further problems, like Edinburgh’s Royal Mile heaving after passengers have been disgorged, all choosing to head to the main attractions for the hours they have ashore.

A holiday in Venice a while back was positively claustrophobic, with the number of passengers leaving unpleasant and even frightening memories of what’s a stunning city. On a visit to Tallinn, my Estonian friend advised me not to venture into the old town between 10am and 4pm, as upwards of 4,000 tourists streamed from the port to the same central parts.

So, some form of regulation is needed for the environment in all its facets, natural and built. Edinburgh isn’t at situation critical, as those other cities might be, but being ahead of the curve would be useful.

There’s also the question of contribution to the economy. Cruise operators may be happy to see passengers spend money in gift shops but they run their schedule to maximise spending on board. Hence, unloading after breakfast and boarding before dinner and drinks are served. Footfall can be substantial but combined spend may be limited.

If Edinburgh’s economy is to really benefit, then two actions need to be taken. Firstly, a tourist tax should apply to them.

They might not be spending a night in a hotel bed but they’re using plenty other facilities when they come ashore.

A modest charge per passenger is perfectly legitimate and can be used to both enhance facilities for them and citizens and other tourists alike.

Secondly, a proper cruise liner terminal should be built. That would enhance the experience for the visitor by avoiding any need for trans-shipment in a small craft – not always on a pleasant day. Leith Docks are tidal and these ships too big. But more importantly it would allow the city to become a turnaround port. That’s where the ships embark from and return to, not just an overnight stay anchored offshore. Spend increases, as passengers arrive early or stay on after, and the ship is berthed for longer.

A construction needs built out into the Forth, allowing liners to dock and passengers to disembark with ease. Discussions have taken place between Forth Ports and the Government but so far, no plans seem prepared.

The latter is short of cash and the former seems to be thinking it’s the role of government to build such things, though I’d always thought that the name might be a clue as to who should be paying!

Some solution should be found. Cruise ships are here to stay, so let’s regulate them and maximise profit from them.