Page last updated at 16:11 GMT, Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Scotland to Northern Ireland gateway on the move

Stranraer aerial view
Stena Line's move clears the way for ambitious plans to regenerate the waterfront area of Stranraer. Picture courtesy Scottish Water

By Willie Johnston
BBC Scotland

Stena Line's intention to leave Stranraer was first signalled in February 2003.

The company announced plans to relocate further up Loch Ryan at Old House Point in order to make the crossing to Belfast both faster and more economic.

The shorter distance would make the crossing shorter for passengers and save the company money because the ferries would use less fuel.

Stena said they would be making a multi-million pound investment in new terminals on both sides of the crossing.

Stranraer had the chance to re-invent itself and moves began to plan the regeneration of the whole waterfront area for alternative commercial, leisure and housing uses

The announcement signalled the beginning of the end of Stranraer's status as a ferry port after 130 years.

The last sailing from the town was predicted to be sometime in 2006.

That prospect was viewed as a both a challenge and an opportunity.

Stranraer had the chance to re-invent itself and moves began to plan the regeneration of the whole waterfront area for alternative commercial, leisure and housing uses.

If any sadness was harboured about the prospect of the ferries moving out of Stranraer there was also relief that Stena had chosen to commit to the North Channel and that vital jobs would be staying in the area where the ferry company remains the biggest local employer.

Surprise development

However, it wasn't long before the vision changed.

In the summer of 2003 there was a surprise development when rivals Stena and P&O said they were going to pool resources by expanding P&O's terminal in Cairnryan village and moving in together, while maintaining separate services.

Those talks continued for more than four years until, in October 2007, the two companies suddenly announced a parting of the ways citing prohibitive costs.

Stena ferry
The Stena scheme represents a major investment for the area

At the time, a spokesman for Port of Cairnryan Limited (the joint-venture company set up to spearhead the development) 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."

That threw the whole Stranraer waterfront project back into the melting point.

The big question was, would Stena ever now move out?

If they and P&O together could not make it work financially, could just one of the partners?

The answer came in February last year when the company revealed that the original Old House Point plans were back on the table and now the go-ahead for that development has been confirmed.

After seven years of false dawns, it now appears that the project will finally be brought to fruition and Loch Ryan's status cemented as one of Scotland's most important transport gateways.

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