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Road Access at Scottish Port Disadvantages NI Economy

12th January 2018
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Ferry operator raises concerns over the poor road network to and from Loch Ryan Port, Cairnryan. The Scottish port handles approximately 45% of NI trade (through Belfast) with the rest of the UK. Ferry operator raises concerns over the poor road network to and from Loch Ryan Port, Cairnryan. The Scottish port handles approximately 45% of NI trade (through Belfast) with the rest of the UK. Photo: Stena Line

#Ferry - Across Northern Ireland businesses continue to be disadvantaged by poor road access to their key markets in the UK.

Ferry operator Stena Line has raised concerns with local political and business stakeholders to increase the focus and necessity of addressing a critical infrastructure deficit which impacts a range of key NI business sectors including manufacturing, food production and tourism.

Whilst road connections in Northern Ireland have been better at keeping pace with economic development, a situation which will be greatly enhanced once work starts on the York Street Interchange project. The same cannot be said of key roads in Scotland, specifically the road network to and from Loch Ryan Port (Cairnryan), which handles approximately 45% of NI trade (through Belfast Port) with the rest of the UK.

Paul Grant, Stena Line’s Trade Director (Irish Sea North) said: “We have been working hard over a number of years to try to get key road improvements made on the A77 and more importantly the A75 heading south from Scotland. Despite significant investments by ferry operators between NI and Scotland, including Stena Line’s new £80m port and terminal facility at Cairnryan, which included the introduction of two larger ferries, successive administrations have been unable to commit the necessary capital resources to carry out these vital road upgrades.

“Access to and from Scottish ports is severely lacking compared with other UK hubs. Journeys could be made easier and travel times shortened which would help to reduce NI’s remoteness and help support key economic contributor groups such as hauliers and tourists. Investments have been made to roads at Holyhead and Heysham and these are already providing tangible benefits to business and tourism levels in their regions.”

Paul Grant added: “Local politicians need to engage with other stakeholders to get the Scottish and Westminster governments to work collaboratively to push for a fit for purpose road network system on both sides of the Irish Sea. The dualling of the A75 will be a long-term infrastructure project which could take a number of years to plan and complete. As it stands however, the clock isn’t even ticking so if we want NI to remain a competitive, forward thinking economy which can attract major investments in the future, we need to start the process of change and work collaboratively now to get the commitments and resources in place before a shift in trade away from NI becomes irreversible.”

Jehan Ashmore

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Jehan Ashmore

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Jehan Ashmore is a marine correspondent, researcher and photographer, specialising in Irish ports, shipping and the ferry sector serving the UK and directly to mainland Europe. Jehan also occasionally writes a column, 'Maritime' Dalkey for the (Dalkey Community Council Newsletter) in addition to contributing to UK marine periodicals. 

Ferry & Car Ferry News The ferry industry on the Irish Sea, is just like any other sector of the shipping industry, in that it is made up of a myriad of ship operators, owners, managers, charterers all contributing to providing a network of routes carried out by a variety of ships designed for different albeit similar purposes.

All this ferry activity involves conventional ferry tonnage, 'ro-pax', where the vessel's primary design is to carry more freight capacity rather than passengers. This is in some cases though, is in complete variance to the fast ferry craft where they carry many more passengers and charging a premium.

In reporting the ferry scene, we examine the constantly changing trends of this sector, as rival ferry operators are competing in an intensive environment, battling out for market share following the fallout of the economic crisis. All this has consequences some immediately felt, while at times, the effects can be drawn out over time, leading to the expense of others, through reduced competition or takeover or even face complete removal from the marketplace, as witnessed in recent years.

Arising from these challenging times, there are of course winners and losers, as exemplified in the trend to run high-speed ferry craft only during the peak-season summer months and on shorter distance routes. In addition, where fastcraft had once dominated the ferry scene, during the heady days from the mid-90's onwards, they have been replaced by recent newcomers in the form of the 'fast ferry' and with increased levels of luxury, yet seeming to form as a cost-effective alternative.

Irish Sea Ferry Routes

Irrespective of the type of vessel deployed on Irish Sea routes (between 2-9 hours), it is the ferry companies that keep the wheels of industry moving as freight vehicles literally (roll-on and roll-off) ships coupled with motoring tourists and the humble 'foot' passenger transported 363 days a year.

As such the exclusive freight-only operators provide important trading routes between Ireland and the UK, where the freight haulage customer is 'king' to generating year-round revenue to the ferry operator. However, custom built tonnage entering service in recent years has exceeded the level of capacity of the Irish Sea in certain quarters of the freight market.

A prime example of the necessity for trade in which we consumers often expect daily, though arguably question how it reached our shores, is the delivery of just in time perishable products to fill our supermarket shelves.

A visual manifestation of this is the arrival every morning and evening into our main ports, where a combination of ferries, ro-pax vessels and fast-craft all descend at the same time. In essence this a marine version to our road-based rush hour traffic going in and out along the commuter belts.

Across the Celtic Sea, the ferry scene coverage is also about those overnight direct ferry routes from Ireland connecting the north-western French ports in Brittany and Normandy.

Due to the seasonality of these routes to Europe, the ferry scene may be in the majority running between February to November, however by no means does this lessen operator competition.

Noting there have been plans over the years to run a direct Irish –Iberian ferry service, which would open up existing and develop new freight markets. Should a direct service open, it would bring new opportunities also for holidaymakers, where Spain is the most visited country in the EU visited by Irish holidaymakers ... heading for the sun!

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