Another day, another grand plan. Peel Ports has revealed what it would like to do with a major port and industrial centre at Hunterston in Ayrshire, labelled one of Scotland’s “most important development sites”. In reality it is 300 acres of derelict wasteland which has been looking for a future since coal imports ended with the closure of Longannet power station.
The new ‘masterplan’ is inevitably bullish, talking up the promise of 1,700 jobs and a £140 million injection of economic value into the economy. The locals are being consulted, but they would be wise not to regard this as a get-rich-quick scheme. It’s a 20 year project, so there is a lot of waiting to be done until all those jobs arrive.
An understandably upbeat Andrew Hemphill, port director at Peel Ports Clydeport, says no other single site in the UK offers Hunterston’s “unrivalled combination of deep-water, extensive land area and transport links” and talks about transforming Scotland’s prospects in a variety of key economic sectors, providing jobs, skills development, import and export opportunities for decades to come. He may be right, though he needs to get everybody on board to make it happen.
The ideas put forward include using the site as a liquid natural gas terminal, a combined cycle gas turbine power station and, curiously, a train manufacturing plant, a long shot if ever there was one. There is not a long queue of train manufacturers just now and the site was considered and ruled out by Spanish manufacturer Talgo last year when it opted instead to put Longannet on its shortlist for a 1,000-job plant to build high speed trains.
That plan is heavily contingent on it winning an order from the HS2 project, and now we hear that HS2 is facing a cash crisis. The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee said the second phase, which would improve journey times between Leeds and Sheffield, risked never going ahead because of spending overruns.
With so many promises and missed opportunities – consider the slow realisation of the Ravenscraig ‘masterplan’ – it would be understandable for the local community to view the Hunterston project more as a nice-to-have ambition.
At least there is some work already going ahead, with the site being remediated and the removal of obsolete equipment expected to be completed by 2020. What’s more, Hunterston has played a major role in Scotland’s changing industrial landscape and has a good case for continuing to do so if enough people get their act together.
It was identified in 1968 as a site that could provide an ore-importing terminal to service the iron and steel industry. Construction on Hunterston port began in April 1974. When built, Hunterston Ore Terminal was one of the deepest water ore/coal terminals in the world and it was primarily used to supply the needs of the British Steel Corporation’s Scottish works, especially at Ravenscraig. The marine yard was used to build oil platforms between 1978 and 1983, a Trident dry dock between 1988 and 1993 and a Gravity base Tank between 1993 and 1996.
In September 2003, the terminal became part of the Peel Ports Group which is hoping to write another chapter in its story. For the good of North Ayrshire, which has suffered from a declining population and has fewer residents today than in 1991, it needs once again to be central to economic activity and this latest plan will have plenty of supporters.
Opposition comes from the tourism lobby concerned about the impact of an industrial development on its visitor numbers. The tourism industry needs to get real. It does not create high value, high paid ad high volume jobs and this area needs this sort of work. Unemployment rates are significantly above the national average at 7%, so jobs are badly needed.
Going in the right direction is the growth through UK ports of freight traffic which, in the past 40 years, has increased by 75% with some 95% of total UK freight being handled through UK ports. That should give as good an indicator as any of the future purpose of this site.