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"A cruise/ferry port at Preston Links" by Brian Weddell & Calum Miller, Prestonpans Community Council: Edinburgh meeting of 19 February 2019

Chris Miller and Brian Weddell addressing the Scottish Region meeting on the vision of Prestonpans Community Council for a cruise-liner terminal on the site of the old power station at Cockenzie.d

Calum Miller and Brian Weddell addressing the Scottish Region meeting on the vision of Prestonpans Community Council for a cruise-liner terminal on the site of the old power station at Cockenzie.

© John Yellowlees, 2019

For four hundred years Prestonpans had a port at Morrison's Haven through which trade passed to and from the Continent.

Opened in the 1960s, Cockenzie Power Station employed 500 people at its peak, but its closure was anticipated from the 1990s, and maritime specialist Professor Alf Baird did a study into the potential for a port on its site at Preston Links.

When the closed power station's chimneys were demolished in 2015, the community's sense of loss became apparent. There was an outcry against a Scottish Enterprise proposal to create an Energy Park to build wind turbines on the site, and Prestonpans Community Council learned from the cruise industry that the market in the Firth of Forth could not grow because of the fragmentation between Leith, Newhaven, Queensferry and Rosyth. PCC has been working hard, punching above its weight, to overcome the political constraints.

The current position is that Scottish ministers have called in a planning application by a Chinese company to build a substation for energy from the Inchcape windfarm off the Angus coast. The proposed location right on the foreshore could scupper a port just at a time when ten thousand houses are being built in East Lothian but trains are full and roads getting ever busier so the young people that the community needs to retain must be employed locally.

The potential linkage with East Lothian's traditional strengths in food and drink is one message that PCC are trying to get over to politicians. The Cruise Lines International Association sees 70 new cruise ships coming into service by next year adding 180k annual capacity, and with 23 of these taking over 4k passengers the average ship size will become 3k. The growth of over 70% in cruise journeys over the last ten years in Europe has been mostly in the colder northern waters as the Mediterranean became fully developed.

Cruise ship calls in Scotland rose from 369 in 2010 to 918 expected this year, with the number of passengers up from 268k to 920k. Last year Edinburgh ports saw 114 calls compared with Orkney's 150, and while Greenock had only 62 these tended to be by larger ships.

With no new investment in one hundred years, the ports presently serving Edinburgh are Victorian. Leith is tidal with lock gates, and has a draught of less than 7 metres. Newhaven also is shallow, while Hound Point at Queensferry requires transfers by tender and Rosyth is on the wrong side of the Forth.

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. However the sailings are 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.

The solution is a new port with a 10m 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 £25M in 2003 and extended ten years later.

Preston Links is close to the A1, and has the railway line for the power station the retention of whose connection with the East Coast Main Line is being safeguarded by East Lothian Council who now own the Cockenzie site. It was objections to locating the substation on the Battlefield site that led to the proposed foreshore location. A small pier built to give the power station flexibility of supply awaits demolition.

As well as cruise-ships, ferries could be accommodated, recalling the days of Smyril Line and Superfast. It was the long journey-time that killed Rosyth-Zeebrugge, and using Preston Links would cut an hour in each direction. Brexit may introduce new opportunities for relieving ports in SE England, and with the ever-increasing focus on decarbonisation electric barges might be used for onward distribution as happens up the Elbe, with the port itself becoming all-electric powered by the Inchcape windfarm.

The presence of Viridor gives East Lothian serious recycling capability, and the county's own tourist attractions would help spread tourist spend away from overheated Edinburgh especially if these could be accessed by independent travellers tired of the overpriced official excursions. Each cruise-ship brings £2M into the economy of Southampton, as it is a turnaround port, and there is the potential of £23M revenue representing £7M profit at the new port, with average spend of £75 by people passing through, £275 by those joining or leaving ships, £27 by day-trippers coming to see them and £41 by crew.Employment opportunities could include services such as hairdressing needed on board, as well as hospitality training in a dedicated college and jobs in a Freeport.

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, reduce fuel costs and potentially doubling the 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 by the industry.

Investments taking place elsewhere at Nigg Bay, Ullapool, Oban, Dundee, Peterhead, Cromarty, Scrabster, Lerwick, Montrose and Greenock show a variety of funding sources ranging from the European Investment Bank through Royal Bank of Scotland to local authorities, portowners and even nuclear decommissioning who would have to support a port engineering study and a development strategy to take matters forward. New roads will be needed anyway as the population grows, but the window of opportunity is small as the Blindwells new housing will gentrify the area and constrain development of the power station site, which is so large that if moved to Edinburgh it would stretch from The Meadows to Stockbridge.

Report and photograph by John Yellowlees.

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