Hopes of a direct ferry link being reintroduced between Rosyth and Europe as early as next year have been dealt a blow after transport minister Graeme Dey confirmed there are “no firm commitments”.
The SNP minister says he is keen to engage with any operator interested in running a route from Scotland.
But he insists the service would have to operate on a “commercially viable basis” and this must be considered by any prospective ferry operator.
Political opponents claim his position “dooms” any prospect of a new route being opened.
In a letter, seen by us, Mr Dey also points to problems for businesses.
They include limited government funding because of financial rules, high marine fuel costs, seasonal fluctuation in demand and a lack of subsidies for carrying passengers on the route.
A link from Rosyth to the Belgian port of Zeebrugge was the only direct ferry link between Scotland and Europe until passenger services were scrapped in 2010.
Freight-only services were terminated completely in 2018.
The idea that it has to be market-driven dooms it.”
– MP Kenny MacAskill
We reported in October how people close to talks around reinstating the route believed they had reached a “crucial” stage amid “enormous and growing interest”.
Re-establishing a link to Europe was a key election promise from the Scottish Greens – who have since entered a power sharing agreement with the SNP – but the Scottish Government has insisted any new link cannot be publicly owned.
In his letter to Alba MP Kenny MacAskill, Mr Dey confirmed ministers have also not made an application to the Motorways of the Sea scheme.
The scheme is was adopted by the EU in the early 2000s to improve freight transport links instead of relying on road travel.
He said: “This is primarily because ports policy is market driven in Scotland and it is the responsibility of individual ports to consider the requirement for route changes and infrastructure improvements, including the business case and funding to support this and an assessment of any consents that may be required.
“With this in mind we would certainly want to see the introduction of new passenger and freight ferry connections.”
Mr Dey added: “The Scottish Government would therefore be keen to engage with any operator proposing a new ferry route between Scotland and Europe.
“However, any such service would have to operate on a commercially viable basis and this would be a matter for any prospective ferry operator to consider.”
‘No firm commitments’
Mr Dey said while ministers “encourage ferry operators to keep the option of introducing a passenger and freight service under review, there are no firm commitments regarding a service as yet”.
Ireland has pushed on with strengthening its own ferry links to the European Union since Brexit, with the number of direct sea routes increasing from 12 before the vote to 44 in October.
— Neale Richmond (@nealerichmond) November 22, 2021
Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath MP Neale Hanvey said a similar link up in Fife could “reinvigorate” the local economy but that this was being scuppered by “supine” leadership at Holyrood.
“This is yet another example of the Scottish Government sitting on their hands and doing nothing, and it’s very frustrating,” he said.
“You only have to look at all the action that’s happening in the south of Ireland to see how important it is and how viable it could become.”
Mr Hanvey added: “I was hoping this would be something an ambitious Scottish Government would grasp with both hands but they haven’t, and it certainly doesn’t sound like Graeme (Dey) has either the permission or the vision to do it.”
‘No drive or strategy’
Kenny MacAskill said unless Santa decides to pay a visit, a ferry link “isn’t coming”.
He added: “There’s sadly just no drive or strategy from the Scottish Government.”
He continued: “The idea that it has to be market-driven dooms it.
“No one expects a haulier to build a road before starting a haulage route or a rail operator to construct a track before embarking on a rail service.”
“To deliver a ferry service that our businesses and tourism sectors require needs some seed corn funding. There are schemes available and the suggestion that its precluded by state aid rules is frankly nonsense given Brexit.”
Local MSP still ‘hugely optimistic’
Dunfermline and West Fife MP Douglas Chapman, who has spent years campaigning to see a freight and passenger service become operational again from Rosyth, said he remains “hugely optimistic” it can be achieved next year.
“It is important that we learn lessons from previous operators and looking forward much of our thinking is taken from the very successful ‘Brexit-buster’ ferries operating out of the Republic of Ireland,” he said.
“If Scotland is serious about maintaining and building exports with Europe then a direct service is a key component of that push.”