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Transport chiefs refuse to say if Rosyth-Europe ferry plans knocked off course

Freight services ran to Zeebrugge in Belgium until 2018.

Transport chiefs have refused to say whether they are on track to deliver a direct ferry link between Rosyth and Europe next year, as calls grow for a state-subsidised service.

Hopes of a passenger and freight service being reinstated on the route were dealt a blow earlier this month when transport minister Graeme Dey confirmed there have been “no firm commitments”.

However, Dunfermline and West Fife MP Douglas Chapman, who has spent years campaigning to see a service become operational again from Rosyth, said he remains “hugely optimistic” it can be achieved by the end of 2022.

The Scottish Government refused to say whether it is on track to meet that timescale after Mr Dey insisted any new link must be run on a commercial basis.

Political opponents claim his position “dooms” any prospect of a new route being opened.

Meanwhile, Cyprus recently announced a tender to reinstate a heavily subsidised maritime passenger link to and from Greece.

A total of 22 return sailings each year will be propped up with €5.5 million of state funds over a three-year contract, with the possibility of a further three-year extension.

MP hits out at ‘lack of ambition’

Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath MP Neale Hanvey described the Scottish Government’s stance as “ludicrous” and accused Mr Dey of lacking “vision and ambition”.

Mr Hanvey said: “You would think the Scottish Government and Graham Dey would want to help Scotland secure a direct trade connection with EFTA/EU rather than their ludicrous position of expecting a private line to take all the risk – and potentially doing more damage than good.

“There needs to be, at the very least, a full economic assessment of the gross value added to the local economy, and the potential for new business start-ups to emerge to fit the market.”

Alex Salmond watches on with Dominico Comisso, captain of the ‘Scottish Viking’ Norfolkline ship, as it arrives in Rosyth as part of its route to Zeebrugge.

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.

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.

Other nations stepping up ferry links

Campaigners say a ferry route would bring a major economic boost for the region.

Ireland has pushed on with strengthening its own ferry links to the EU since Brexit, with the number of direct sea routes increasing from 12 to 44.

What price Scotland’s international trade?

Mr Hanvey claimed an operating contract for a continental ferry could be put in place in Scotland for “as low a subsidy as £4-5 million annually” and said the example of Ireland “shows vividly the business potential”.

He pointed to the hundreds of millions of pounds already handed over to firms to run ferry links between the mainland and the Northern Isles.

“A Forth-Continent ferry would carry even more traffic than is carried to Northern Isles, and longer distance too,” Mr Hanvey said.

Neale Hanvey MP.
Neale Hanvey MP.

“What price Scotland’s international trade and travel connection?

“£4-5 million a year seems a very small price to pay if you have the vision and ambition the Scottish Government allege they have.

“If it exists at all it is certainly not on show here.

“Whether you’re in favour of independence or not, this is a no brainer in a post-Brexit world as we must build our connectivity and business capacity for this new world.”

Ministers support a new service – but it must be on a commercial basis

A Scottish Government spokesman did not respond to questions about whether it is on track to find an operator and reinstate a link to Europe next year.

Asked for a response to Mr Hanvey’s remarks, Transport Scotland – on behalf of the Scottish Government – copied and pasted a comment first issued in October.

It states: “We are supportive of new direct ferry services linking Scotland to Europe but they need to be delivered on a commercial basis.

“Exporting delays are down to issues that we have warned about for many years, and the consequences of the Brexit deal are now being felt across the country.”