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Shock as 'Superport' Scrapped

HUNDREDS of ferry jobs and Stranraer Waterfront Project are in doubt after it was announced the new super ferry port in Cairnryan has been scrapped.

The Port of Cairnryan Company — the partnership formed by Stena Line and P&O — revealed escalating costs were behind the decision to pull the plug on the multi-million project.

Now more than 500 ferry workers face uncertainty as Stena decide the future of the Stranraer to Belfast route.

The ferry company has repeatedly stated in the past that staying in Stranraer was “making the route increasingly uneconomic and threatening its commercial viability”.

The shock decision to ditch the joint project comes as the Stranraer Waterfront development, set up to fill the void left by Stena Line’s departure to the new port, has shown signs of movement.

Its progress could be seriously hampered because investors were to be sold a vision of a marine and water sports development, which depends on the guaranteed departure of the ferries from the harbour.

In May, Ministers rubber-stamped the multi-million pound port development after a lengthy public inquiry which heard pleas from Stena about the consequences of refusing the plans.

In what was to be the largest development of its kind in Scotland since 1945, the port would have doubled in size, adding two berths for Stena’s HSS and its conventional ferry.

It was intended that Stena would move out of Stranraer and share the extended Cairnryan facility with P&O — with the Stranraer Waterfront Redevelopment following in its wake.

The port had been expected to be finished by 2008 and would have been one of the busiest ferry ports in Britain.

A statement released from The Port of Cairnryan Company said: “A lot of time and effort has gone into the various stages of the planning and development of the proposed port.

“But in recent weeks it has become increasingly obvious that escalating costs mean it is simply no longer economically viable and both parties have reached a decision to halt the project.

“Regrettably, in recent weeks, detailed cost projections have shown that the final cost for developing the new facility is simply prohibitive.”

It is understood the project had not received any aid from the UK government, or the European Union.

Stena Line Route Director Alan Gordon said the firm was keeping its options open and would be making an announcement within the next six months.

These options include finding a new site — one being Old House Point, North of Cairnryan, staying in Stranraer, or moving out all together.

The joint venture company, The Port of Cairnryan, is to be dissolved.

Mr Gordon said: “Hopefully within that period we can find out which way we are going to go.

“In terms of job losses the same people will be employed operating the service as yesterday — we still need these people running the ships backwards and forwards.”

P&O Irish Sea director Terry Cairns said: “We have examined many options, but this was a joint decision to stop the project.

“As far as P&O is concerned it will be business as usual. We’ve been operating since 1973 and there is still a need for the service.

“It’s a successful business and we have no intentions to make changes.”

Seventy-five people are said to work on the route.

Scottish Enterprise Dumfries and Galloway is to hold an emergency meeting with Stena Line to discuss the decision.

Stuart Dixon, operations director for Scottish Enterprise Dumfries and Galloway, said: “Stena's announcement to remain in Stranraer has came as a shock to us.

“It is imperative that early talks take place with Stena and Dumfries and Galloway Council to discuss the implications this may have on the deliverability of the main development of the Stranraer Waterfront.”

Mike Keggan, chairman of Scottish Enterprise Dumfries and Galloway, added: “We are about to enter into the very important development phase of the Stranraer Waterfront project.

“Therefore, it is extremely important that we meet with the management of Stena and Dumfries and Galloway Council as soon as possible to get a clear indication of Stena’s plan and what this may mean for the future of the Stranraer Waterfront Development.”

The council and Scottish Enterprise saw the granting in May of a Harbour and Empowerment Act as the key milestone in the waterfront development.

Stena’s Port Rodie terminal site had been earmarked for redevelopment.

But the project crucially hinged on the absence of ferries south of Cairnryan, which would have made a marina and water sports possible.

A 50-berth pontoon project went out for tender in September and the council and Scottish Enterprise were set to seek funding in the coming months.

Prior to this week’s announcment no indication had been made to council or Scottish Enterprise about the decision to cancel the new port.

Council Leader Ivor Hyslop said getting everyone round the table as a matter or urgency was vital to determine the implications of Stena's decision on the Stranraer Waterfront regeneration project.

He said: “I am calling for an urgent meeting to be arranged between the Council, the joint venture company Port of Cairnryan Ltd and Scottish Enterprise Dumfries and Galloway to fully appreciate the implications of this business decision.

“We will also be looking for Stena Line to confirm their long-term commitment to the North Channel crossing.”

Chief Executive Philip Jones said: “This is very disappointing news. “The council remains committed to the wider regeneration project for Stranraer, and our priority will be to encourage Stena to consolidate their position as one of the area's main employers.”

But Mr Jones said Stena had to give reassurance that they were still going to invest in the waterfront project.

“Importantly we want to secure a commitment from Scottish Enterprise that the regeneration funding package already agreed remains firmly in place,” he said.

Last December, Stena laid out clear motivations at a public inquiry for the move.

Route Director Alan Gordon went on record during the inquiry as saying rocketing fuel costs and harbour constraints at Stranraer were jeopardising the route.

Also giving evidence at the inquiry was Peter Wood of Tribal Consultancy, who researched into ferry-related employment in the area for The Port of Cairnryan.

He stated: “Employment will be put at risk by a decision which prevents the proposed port development at Cairnryan.

“My overall conclusion is that failure to allow the development will place at risk over 600 local jobs in ferry operations and related businesses.”

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