THE site of the former Cockenzie power station is being proposed as a new cruise liner terminal to attract thousands of tourists.
Backers say the move would open the door to new ferry services to northern Europe, create much-needed jobs for young people in the area and boost the economy.
The power station site was bought by East Lothian Council last month. Now Prestonpans Community Council is leading calls for council chiefs to take forward the cruise terminal idea.
They say the coastal communities of Prestonpans, Cockenzie and Port Seton look out on the best natural berth for cruise ships in the Forth estuary.
And an expert in maritime transport, commissioned to investigate the feasibility of the plan, has said a terminal could be built at relatively low cost.
Community council chairman Brian Weddell said the “Port of Prestonpans”, with easy access to deep water, would offer a more attractive prospect for cruise liners than Leith, where some ships have to anchor in the firth and send passengers ashore in tender vessels.
He said this year nearly 140 cruise ships were due to visit Orkney, 337 were going to Copenhagen, but just over 80 were expected in Edinburgh.
“Cruising is the fastest growing tourism sector in the world at the moment,” he said. “They are coming to Scotland and Edinburgh, but not the numbers that could come. At Leith, ships have to ferry people in and out in tender boats because they cannot get in due to the water depth being too shallow. That’s a big cost, it creates health and safety issues and of course the ships are travelling further up the Forth, using more fuel.”
Crucially, a cruise terminal would bring jobs for the area’s young people. Mr Weddell said: “There are too few local employment options available to young people in East Lothian, forcing many to leave home for work and/or further education. In the Year of Young People, we aim to dramatically increase the available opportunities. A cruise port in Prestonpans would both increase the number of local apprenticeships and attract a dedicated hospitality training college to train youngsters for work on the visiting cruise ships.”
He said the Port of Prestonpans would be only a short drive or train journey from the Capital, but also had East Lothian’s golf courses and other attractions, including the Battle of Prestonpans site, on the doorstep.
“A new cruise/ferry terminal could also include a shopping centre with high-quality retail stores, coffee shops and restaurants that local people as well as visitors could enjoy,” he said.
A masterplan for the power station site, commissioned by East Lothian Council and published in August last year, cast doubt on the cruise terminal plan, warning it could cost several hundred million pounds to achieve the appropriate depths and questioning whether there was a sufficient market.
But Mr Weddell said the expert who carried out a feasibility study for the community council had rubbished the claims.
He said: “We commissioned Alf Baird, who is an acknowledged expert on maritime transport. He said it is deliverable and at a realistic cost.”
The community council wants council chiefs to drive the plans forward, but is also looking to the Scottish Government to get involved and accept the project would likely mean a cruise company coming on board as a partner.
“If the council owned the port – and we would urge it should be kept in public ownership – that would bring in revenue because they would charge fees for the ships coming in and out,” he said.
“We also recognise it can’t just be done with public money. There would have to be a joint venture between the private sector, the council and the Scottish Government to get the best value out of this.”
There is already a pier at the power station site that would have to be extended.
Mr Weddell said: “We need a port engineering study to assess the depth of the water, whether dredging would be required and how much, and how far the pier would need to go out to accommodate the ships.”
A rival planning application for part of the site has already been submitted for an onshore substation, electricity cables and associated infrastructure required to export electricity from the Inch Cape Offshore wind farm to the National Grid.
And the Scottish Government has now called it in, removing the decision from the council.
Mr Weddell said: “The concern in the community is if that goes ahead it’s going to scupper any plans for a cruise terminal or any other job-creating industry there. Previously they had permission for it to be further inland, but that was time expired, so they had to resubmit it and they have decided they want it on the prime part of the site, along the shore.
“That would not create any jobs. The substation doesn’t have any staff, it’s just a shed.”
East Lothian MSP Iain Gray said now the council had taken possession of the power station site it was vital it was used to create jobs and prosperity for the local community.
“The idea of a cruise terminal is certainly worth consideration,” he added. “I have seen, in Norway for example, just how the cruise industry can provide jobs and opportunities for local communities.”
And he said he was “extremely concerned” the government had called in the substation application and would decide it without fully considering the views of the local community.
“For years now I have argued that far too many planning decisions in East Lothian are taken away from the council and imposed by Scottish ministers,” he said. “This site is a critical one for jobs and economic growth and it should not be jeopardised.”
Acting council leader Norman Hampshire said: “The idea of a cruise terminal at Cockenzie is one that has been raised several times since it became clear the old power station was to be demolished and that plans for a gas power station in its place were not going ahead.
“After a long period of negotiation, the council bought the site last month from Scottish Power. During that intervening period, we commissioned an external team of experts to carry out extensive community and stakeholder consultation to inform a vision for what local people and other interested parties would ideally like to see happen with the site.
“The general wish is for a mixed-use development incorporating green space, leisure and significant employment opportunities. The masterplan is a visionary document, not a plan, so what development goes ahead on the site is still to be decided. The idea of a cruise terminal would potentially meet some demand for jobs in the area with economic benefits associated with tourism. The council’s next step will be to market the site for development and we will await with interest what proposals come forward.”
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