ACCORDING TO Cruise Critic website, Edinburgh is the top Western European cruise ship destination of 2018. Dig a little deeper however and it’s apparent that passengers were referring to the City and not the port facilities. Type ‘Edinburgh’ into the site search and what pops up from the comments is a litany of; cancelled visits, poor disabled access, poor port facilities, long transfer times and restricted port durations.
At the core of the problem are Victorian port facilities that can’t scale to handle the bigger cruise liners. These ships can’t limbo under the Forth bridges to visit Rosyth, nor squeeze into Leith docks. Instead, passengers are force-ferried on small tenders to South Queensferry or Newhaven harbour.
The tenders are the cruise market equivalent of an outside loo, with the queue to get in often as long. A 4,000+ passenger ship visiting Edinburgh can take two hours to decant and a similar time to refill. That’s 4 hours from a 12-hour visit where passengers are twiddling thumbs rather than ringing tills – if they can make it ashore at all. With the average passenger spend standing at £75 per port call, each visit cancelled due to bad weather can cost the local economy £300,000.
With the size of cruise ships trending ever upwards it’s time for Edinburgh to raise its standards. 114 ships made a call on Edinburgh last year carrying 160,000 passengers but that’s way less than a third of the business handled by Tallinn or Copenhagen: Europe’s top cruise destination is treading water and the financial potential is draining away.
There’s an obvious solution to scaling Edinburgh’s cruise market, if our politicians care to look up from Brexit and East along the coast: a natural harbour already exists which once sheltered the oil tankers that refuelled the old Cockenzie power station. With a little dredging and investment, the biggest ships could soon be gliding alongside a more modern quay with professional facilities. This new terminal would have the capacity to act as a home port, increasing the individual passenger spend in the Lothians to £275.
One potential issue is the construction of a giant wind-farm transformer that will transfer power from Inch Cape into the national grid. Get the position right and we’ve found the means to fuel the next generation of plug-in ships from green power, get it wrong and we’ve lost the last location on the Forth to host a modern port and thousands of jobs.
Converting old coal power stations into new ports is easy with their ready rail, road and sea access. In fact Forth Ports is doing exactly that but their £250 million investment will only be visible on the Thames estuary; Edinburgh urgently needs a new port that graces the sea view from the company’s HQ.
Calum Miller is a member of Prestonpans Community Council