A Potential Cruise/Ferry Port in East Lothian

By Brian Weddell, Former STSG Organiser and Chairperson of Prestonpans Community Council

In March 2018 East Lothian Council purchased the former power station site at Cockenzie. For more than 20 years former STSG treasurer Dr Alfred Baird has been arguing that this coastal location would be ideal for a cruise/ferry port that could attract new businesses and much needed jobs to East Lothian. Following acquisition of the site by the local authority Prestonpans Community Council launched an ambitious vison for a new cruise/ ferry terminal.

The ‘Port of Prestonpans’ would see a significant increase in the number of cruise ships coming to the Firth of Forth and provide the capacity for new ferry services to ports in northern Europe. In 2018 Orkney was Scotland’s busiest port for cruise ships with over 140 visiting Kirkwall with around half that number of cruise ships berthing in the Firth of Forth.

Tourism is the world’s biggest business and Edinburgh is Scotland’s biggest tourism market. In a recent survey of cruise ship passengers Edinburgh came out tops as the number one destination in Western Europe. But whilst Scotland’s capital is a first-class tourist attraction Edinburgh has third rate facilities for cruise ships and their passengers. The majority of the 85 cruise ships berthing at the Firth of Forth this year anchored offshore and transported passengers to South Queensferry or Newhaven on small tender boats. This is weather dependant and costly for the cruise companies as well as being inconvenient and time consuming for passengers.

The ‘Port of Prestonpans’ is perfectly positioned on the Firth of Forth to integrate East Lothian and Edinburgh into the global cruise ship network. A modern pier close to Scotland’s capital city would also be attractive to ferry operators interested in opening up routes to Northern Europe. Given our uncertain economic future following Brexit surely the UK and Scottish Government’s should be exploring how we develop new trading opportunities with northern Europe and beyond?

On a recent cruise to the Baltic Sea my wife and I saw first-hand how the lure of cruise ships and ferries can benefit local economies. Whilst the main attraction for 4,000 plus passengers were the cities of St. Petersburg, Tallin, Helsinki and Stockholm it was at the port of Warnemunde in northern Germany that we saw how cruise ships can transform a local community.

Warnemunde is a small town with a population of 8,500 people similar in many respects to Prestonpans, Cockenzie & Port Seton whose economy was previously dependant on fishing and businesses based around the harbour. With the decline in the fishing industry Warnemunde looked to the expanding cruise tourism market at the turn of the century to grow its economy and in 2005 it opened a new port which this year attracted 190 cruise ships and is now the busiest cruise destination in Germany.

On the day we visited there were three cruise ships in town and the place was buzzing with passengers and crew eager to stretch their sea legs and sample the local markets, coffee shops and bars. Whilst we were enjoying the delights of Warnemunde an army of local businesses were supplying the three ships with fresh food, drink and provisions for the next leg of our journey. East Lothian prides itself as Scotland’s food and drink county and could significantly increase its market supplying cruise ships berthing at Cockenzie. Talking to local people in Warnemunde they told us how the cruise ships had attracted new businesses to the area and that the town’s young people had been encouraged to stay and work locally whereas before many had left to find work in the big German cities.

I have always been convinced of the strong arguments for creating a cruise and ferry port on the former Cockenzie power station site and our recent visit to Warnemunde let me see first-hand the potential on East Lothian’s doorstep.

If a cruise port in East Lothian enjoyed ‘Homeport’ status it would mean that cruise passengers begin and end their cruise at the ‘Port of Prestonpans’.

The ‘Port of Prestonpans’ would change the dynamics of the cruise market on the Forth, landing thousands of high-income tourists on the East Lothian coast. Not only would they be a short drive or train journey to the centre of Edinburgh cruise passengers and crew would have the option of enjoying the many visitor and tourist attractions East Lothian has to offer such as – some of the best golf courses in the world, walking and cycling tours, visits to historical castles, buildings and the Prestonpans battle site, boat trips to view the Forth Bridges and the Bass Rock or just a short stroll to seaside towns and villages. 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.

East Lothian Council are not blind to the potential of the former power station site and commissioned a Masterplan which concluded that the creation of local jobs, raising the aspiration of the area and creating a destination that locals could use and attract visitors were the three main priorities.

What the masterplan failed to properly address was the potential of a cruise/ferry port and following its publication Prestonpans Community Council commissioned a paper on the potential of a cruise/ferry port by Dr Alfred Baird, formerly Professor of Maritime Business at TRI Edinburgh Napier University. Dr Baird concluded that a well-designed cruise ship pier with appropriate alignment and making effective use of available water depths, tidal range and dredged material could be constructed at relatively low cost.

Currently 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. A cruise port in Prestonpans would both increase the number of local apprenticeships and could attract a dedicated hospitality training college to train youngsters for work on the visiting cruise ships and jobs in Scotland’s growing hospitality sector.

The Prestonpans Community Council believe that a cruise/ferry port on the former power station site must be fully explored as it offers the best opportunity for new business and employment opportunities across East Lothian and beyond and have called for East Lothian Council and the Scottish Government to explore this sooner rather than later.

Now that the power station site is in public ownership it is incumbent on East Lothian Council, the Scottish and UK Government’s to develop a business case for a cruise and ferry port at Preston links to maximise the jobs and economic potential capitalising on the sites close proximity to the jewel in Scotland’s tourism crown.


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