Irish sea ferry operators accuse Scottish Government of putting future investment at risk with transport review

Irish sea ferry operators have shared their “dismay” at the Scottish Government’s transport review and warned it poses a “risk” to future investment

Stena Line, P&O Ferries and Belfast Harbour have joined forces to criticise the Government’s second Strategic Transport Projects Review (STPR2), claiming only took three of 20 recommended improvements have been taken forward.

The ferry operators put together a proposal for major improvements to the A75 and A77 after calling for improvements for decades, but have now accused ministers of letting passengers down.

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In a joint statement, Paul Grant, trade director, Irish Sea at StenaLine, Riccardo Tonelli, director of operations, North Sea and Irish Sea at P&O Ferries, and Michael Robinson, port director of Belfast Harbour, have demanded better.

Irish sea ferry operators have shared their “dismay” at the Scottish Government’s transport review.

They said: “We have spent several years engaging collaboratively and privately rather than through the media.

“However, we must be clear that our commercial decisions are deeply impacted by the environment in which we operate.

“We have already seen evidence of customers being pushed to ports such as Heysham and Liverpool, where there they meet safer and better quality roads, and we cannot avoid the inevitability that STPR2 poses a material risk to future investment.”

The Scottish Government only agreed to three of the proposals fully, with another two partially committed.

The trio claimed they were “deeply dismayed” by the Scottish Government’s proposals after three years of talks.

They said: “We felt we had a mutual understanding of what was required and a mutual commitment to making the necessary improvements.

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“We carry around 1.75 million passengers, 500,000 cars and 400,000 freight vehicles every year on our 26 daily crossings. Each one of them has been let down.

“The proposed improvements, to cover the next 20 years, are a small fraction of what is required to make them safer, greener and better.

“There is a casualty every three days on the A75 and A77. Nearly two tonnes more CO2 is emitted on each of these roads, every day, than are emitted on comparable, upgraded roads. And they are two of the five slowest A-roads in Scotland.

“Given the Scottish Government’s focus on environmental welfare, it is difficult to understand the failure to commit to significant improvements on these high-emission roads, which are the only alternative to air transport for those travelling between Northern Ireland and Scotland. This is a missed opportunity to cut carbon emissions.”

The coalition praised the Union Connectivity Review commissioned by the UK Government and called for both administrations to work together.

They said: “We have had extremely encouraging discussions with the UK Government on its proposals for the A75, as part of the UCR.

“We will continue these discussions, and we hope that we can play a role in bringing the UK and Scottish governments together in the interests of the people of the south west of Scotland and well beyond.”

Launched in October last year, the Union Connectivity Review was focused on the quality and availability of transport infrastructure across the UK.

The Scottish Government has previously argued transport was devolved to Holyrood and labelled the review a “power grab”.

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “We will set out proposals for future investment in the Scottish road network through the forthcoming recommendations from the second Strategic Transport Projects Review (STPR2).

"We will also continue to progress our programme of trunk road improvements to improve resilience, safety and support sustainable inclusive growth. Clearly, we need to balance the extensive changes required to meet our net-zero ambitions with our duty to ensure Scotland has high quality infrastructure to meet the needs of all residents, businesses and visitors.

“Stranraer and the ports at Cairnryan act as an important gateway to Scotland for ferry passengers and freight and we have engaged with this group of stakeholders throughout the STPR2 process. The minister for transport is keen to meet both Stena and P&O to discuss their concerns further.

“Improving the transport assets in this location would support regeneration in the South West of Scotland to benefit the economy and local communities. STPR2 recommends that safety, resilience and reliability improvements are made on the A75 and A77 strategic road corridors, in turn supporting place-making opportunities. This would include, but is not limited to, enhancing overtaking opportunities, widening or realigning carriageways and improving junctions.”

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