John Yellowlees: New Cockenzie port would have a huge impact

Edinburgh has been voted the top cruise destination in western EuropeEdinburgh has been voted the top cruise destination in western Europe
Edinburgh has been voted the top cruise destination in western Europe
The growth of more than 70 per cent in cruise ­journeys over the last ten years in Europe has been mostly in the colder northern waters as the Mediterranean market has been complemented by new UK based opportunities where people can avoid the need to fly to reach cruise ships.

Edinburgh has become one of the most popular attractions for these tours. In February 2019, the ­Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport met to debate the merits of a proposal by Prestonpans Community Council for a cruise-liner ­terminal on the site of the old power station at Cockenzie.

Cruise ship calls in Scotland rose from 369 in 2010 to 918 expected in 2019, with the number of passengers up from 268, 000 to 920,000. Last year Edinburgh ports saw 114 calls compared with Orkney’s 150, and 62 at Greenock serving Glasgow, mainly from larger ships. The Cruise Lines International Association sees 70 new ships coming into service by 2020 adding 180,000 annual capacity. With 23 of these taking more than 4000 passengers, the average ship size will become 3000.

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Edinburgh was voted the top cruise destination in western Europe by Cruise Critic in 2018, but passengers do not like the transfer, which is slow and can be cancelled in bad weather.

John Yellowlees, Chair, CILT ScotlandJohn Yellowlees, Chair, CILT Scotland
John Yellowlees, Chair, CILT Scotland

With no new investment in 100 years, the ports presently serving Edinburgh are Victorian. Leith is ­tidal with lock gates, and has draught and width limitations. ­Newhaven also is shallow and, like Hound Point at Queensferry, requires transfers by tender. Rosyth has limited potential due to Forth bridge height restrictions. With sailings spread between four terminals, there is little incentive to invest in any of them. Tenders don’t scale up with the size of the ship, and the more time spent waiting around means less time for spending.

A potential solution is a new port with a 10 metre draught and the width for several berths with room also for luxury yachts. Some inspiration can be provided by the Hatston terminal at Kirkwall, opened at a cost of £25 million in 2003 and extended ten years later.

For 400 years, Prestonpans had a port at Morrison’s Haven through which trade passed to and from the Continent. Prestonpans Community Council have highlighted the potential linkages between tourism and East Lothian’s traditional strengths in food and drink.

Preston Links is close to the A1, and retains the railway line, formerly used for Cockenzie Power ­Station. As well as cruise ships, ferries could be accommodated. It was the long journey time that killed Rosyth-Zeebrugge, but using Preston Links would cut an hour in each direction. With the ever-increasing focus on decarbonisation, electric barges might be used for onward distribution, with the port itself becoming all-electric powered by the Inchcape windfarm.

Direct local employment opportunities would include tours, transport, accommodation, ship provisions, port services, marketing and the potential for a free port. The port would also act as an economic engine creating jobs across the Lothians through improved connectivity to European markets, reduced travel time, reduced fuel costs and a potential doubling of cruise ship traffic in the Forth. There is also the prospect of creating a dedicated cruise ship hospitality college to train staff to the high standards expected.

There are opportunities to build new tourist itineraries including not just Edinburgh but more East Lothian attractions. There are also opportunities for servicing the needs of liner traffic and local waste ­management company Viridor gives East Lothian strong recycling capability.

Attracting funding for major ­transport investment can learn from ­other investments taking place elsewhere at Nigg Bay (Aberdeen South Harbour), Ullapool, Oban, Dundee, Peterhead, Cromarty, Scrabster, ­Lerwick, Montrose and Greenock.

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These demonstrate the increasingly wide variety of funding sources ­ranging from the European Investment Bank through Royal Bank of Scotland to local authorities, port owners and even nuclear decommissioning.

Competition with other development at this site and with other port facilities across the country is important to ensure the economy continues to thrive. The window of opportunity for the development of the Prestonpans site is narrow.

However, by ensuring that new ideas are heard and communicated, CILT helps to raise the potential of the whole ­industry.

John Yellowlees, chair, CILT Scotland.