Discussions around reinstating a direct ferry link between Rosyth and Europe have reached a “critical” stage, we can reveal, amid “enormous and growing interest” in establishing the trade route post-Brexit.
Dunfermline and West Fife MSP Douglas Chapman, who has spent years campaigning to see a freight and passenger service become operational again, confirmed the pace of developments has “picked up” in recent months.
A route from Rosyth to the Belgian port Zeebrugge was the only direct ferry link between Scotland and Europe until passenger services were scrapped in 2010, with freight-only services being terminated completely in 2018.
Scottish businessman Derek Sloan, who is the former managing director of Norfolk Line, the final firm to run passenger ferry services on the route, has developed a “strong” business case and has been working with key industry stakeholders.
With a fair wind, we can do it.”
Mr Chapman welcomed a delegation from Zeebrugge earlier this week for confidential talks and has also had discussions with officials from Forth Ports, the owners of the Port of Rosyth, the Scottish Government and Scottish Secretary Alister Jack.
“There’s an enormous and growing interest in reinstating the ferry link between Rosyth and Europe,” Mr Chapman said.
“I’ve been campaigning for a long time to see a freight and passenger service operational again and over the past few months the pace of developments has picked up.
“Recently, I’ve been in discussions with key stakeholders – including the Secretary of State for Scotland, our Scottish Government and representatives from Forth Ports and the Port of Zeebrugge.
“Only this week I hosted a delegation from Zeebrugge, and discussions are also at a crucial stage with investors and potential operators.”
Mr Chapman said that while there are “significant” challenges that need to be resolved before further progress can be made, “confidential discussions are continuing between the key players, and I sense every party is approaching these talks positively”.
He added: “Re-establishing a direct ferry service from Rosyth is needed more than ever as we try to take more lorry miles off the road and move to a net-zero economy, and to help us deal with the disaster area for exports and supply chain resilience as a result of Brexit.
“Tourism could be a big winner too as they pick up the pieces of the industry post-Covid.
“I’m working hard to ensure that any barriers are overcome, and to get Scotland’s European ferry link reinstated as soon as possible. With a fair wind, we can do it.”
We reported earlier this week how Scotland’s new Green ministers are under pressure to deliver on an election promise to re-establish the direct ferry link from Rosyth to Europe after reaching a power-sharing agreement with the SNP.
The Scottish Government previously said any new direct ferry links to Europe would only proceed on a “commercial basis” and not be publicly owned but dropped that wording after being approached by us for comment.
A spokesman said the government is “supportive of new direct ferry services linking Scotland to Europe” and has been meeting with port operators and others to explore how that might be delivered.
Forth Ports said it would “continue to explore options for a freight ferry service into the Port of Rosyth and we remain receptive to approaches from potential operators”.
The Scottish Government announced last month it will set up its own “green ports” after pulling out of a joint arrangement with the UK Government to create freeports – designated zones with lower tax levies and fewer regulations.
Ministers cited concerns over whether the UK Government’s freeports scheme will be underpinned by fair work and net zero ambitions.
A UK Government source said the Scottish Secretary believes freeports “could be a real spur to improving sea links” and urged Mr Chapman to support the scheme during their discussions.
A spokeswoman added: “While reinstating the ferry route between Rosyth and Europe will be a commercial decision for operators, the UK Government is committed to doing all it can to boost the economy and create conditions that would make new routes attractive to operators.”