The COVID pandemic has caused havoc across virtually all business sectors, and Scotland’s ports have certainly had their share of challenges in recent months. However, as Stuart Cresswell, Port Manager at Ayr and Troon, and the new Chair of the Scottish Ports Group points out, the sector has stayed open and kept the country supplied and a number of Scottish ports are now poised to win significant business from the renewables sector in the months ahead. The Scottish Ports Group is the industry forum in Scotland representing the overwhelming majority ports and is part of the British Ports Association (BPA).
“Collectively, information gathered by the BPA shows that ports across the UK are worried about the immediate business outlook. Only 36 percent of the ports are upbeat about their prospects for the remainder of 2020. However, there is a good case to be made for the Scottish Government allocating targeted transport and infrastructure funding that could provide a very significant boost to Scottish ports and could help Scotland to achieve its zero carbon target by 2040,” Cresswell says.
Cresswell points out that the BPA has proposed three packages of support which it says will both aid a green recovery and help the drive to widen the UK Government’s Freeports initiative. The Scottish Ports Chair wants to see continued medium-term cash flow and business support, plus a significant scaling up of Scotland’s infrastructure ambitions. The BPA wants what Cresswell calls “a bold and broad-based Freeports policy and port zoning strategy”. And the BPA is promoting the concept of a Green Maritime Fund to provide a Net Zero development and growth agenda for the sector.
“Offshore renewables represent a tremendous opportunity for Scottish ports. We have the largest offshore resource in Europe. Offshore developments need landside hubs and facilities and several Scottish ports have been investing significantly to provide the strengthened quay side and other facilities that the offshore wind industry needs,” he says.
Cresswell points out that ports in Scotland are keen to play their part in helping to bring the UK’s Offshore Wind Sector Deal aspiration. This targets having 30 percent of the UK’s energy requirements met from wind power by 2030. Scottish ports will benefit hugely provided the Scottish Government works to ensure that Scotland has an agile planning and consenting regime that will enable ports to respond in a timely fashion to opportunities.
“Given our large marine resource Scotland has a huge opportunity to cement development and jobs in coastal locations. We also want to see stronger local UK content rules which would mandate a larger share of the development, build-out and engineering works required to establish offshore wind farms going to local businesses,” he says.
“There has been a lot of talk about a green recovery, and the ports industry recognises that in these difficult times there is an opportunity to rebuild, better. The next 12 months will in all likelihood be harder than the last 12, with an uncertain economic situation and the biggest change to our trade and border framework in a generation.
“There is now a growing and long-overdue recognition of the foundational role ports can play in supporting regional and national economies and we will continue to advance the sector’s positive influence at every opportunity,” he notes.
What is needed now, Cresswell says, is for the Scottish Government to take positive action to help the nation’s ports achieve their potential. “The Scottish Government needs to fan the flames to ensure that the ports are able to deliver on their potential to bring a wide array of benefits to the Scottish economy and to assist the green recovery,” he comments.
Cresswell argues that there is a role for Scotland’s enterprise bodies, Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, to look at allocating funding to projects that stimulate coastal and marine growth. “The BPA will be working with national and local governments to explore ways to help ports as they seek to drive growth, both for themselves and for the Scottish economy,” he comments.
Freeports, the policy where ports can be granted preferential customs, planning and enterprise rules, is now a UK Government policy. Cresswell points out that while the BPA supports the concept, many ports are concerned by the fact that Westminster is arbitrarily limiting the number of Freeports to just ten locations. “The concept is certainly of great interest to Scottish ports but lets not be so restrictive and spread the benefits further”, he adds.