Now that Dublin Port has won final permission for a double cruise ship dock, there is no possibility that Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company’s cruise plans are viable.
It sounded like such a great idea. Cruise ships would dock in Dún Laoghaire – and not just any ships; these would be the largest cruise ships in the world. They would disgorge wealthy tourists to shop and eat and revitalise our port town. The ships would pay giant berthing fees and the Harbour would regain the income it used to earn from the now defunct high-speed ferry to Holyhead.
Then, in July, just after Dun Laoghaire had applied for permission, Dublin Port obtained final planning permission to construct a double dock for cruise ships next to the Point Depot and the East Link Bridge.
This will have twice the capacity of Dún Laoghaire’s proposal and will bring passengers closer to the major city centre tourist attractions. It will use the same funding from the EU and from the Irish government that Dún Laoghaire had hoped to access.
So, even if Dún Laoghaire obtains planning permission in a year or two from now, it is very unlikely that the project will be viable.
It might seem like a disappointment for Dún Laoghaire, but Dublin Port may have saved us from a poor investment.
The reality of cruise ship customers
Plenty of studies like this: Economic Contribution of Cruise Tourism to the Destination Economies have measured how much passengers spend when a cruise ship docks in a town. The passengers have free food on board so they don’t eat out in the town’s restaurants. In fact many don’t bother disembarking at all. Of those who do come ashore, most board a tour bus to visit the major national attractions: the Book of Kells, Glendalough, the Guinness Brewery. Those who walk around the town, may buy some jewelry or a small gift. So the cruise ship passengers will not be the solution to the problem of so many closed shops on Georges Street.
There definitely would be a benefit to the town from the arrival of a large number of cruise passengers – it just won’t be as large a benefit as we might expect.
Cobh has experience of cruise ship trade along its docks for the past few years and when I spoke to residents of the town, they told me that most passengers board tour buses to visit attractions like the Blarney stone, Fota and Cork City with a small but welcome trade for Cobh itself.
The amenity value of the Harbour.
The Harbour should of course try to recover its running costs from commercial activity but over the years it has developed many extra uses as a public amenity. One million people per year walk the East Pier. Three yacht clubs line the seafront with many children learning to sail every summer. Rowing, diving, swimming, boarding and other marine sports take place in the Coal Harbour and the Gut. The planned cruise ships would have been oversized for the harbour, nearly reaching the harbour mouth from the shore, creating a giant wind break and dividing the harbour in two.
The international sailing competitions that take place in the harbour each year could not happen. Dun Laoghaire Harbour is the most important venue for youth sail training and international sailing
events in Ireland and attracts considerable business to the town from participants who stay and shop and live onshore during these events.
Did it ever add up?
The projected cost of the project is €18m. This covers the cost of the dock but also dredging a deep trench through the harbour which would otherwise be too shallow for these massive vessels.
The Harbour company wrote a business case in 2011.
A newer business case was included with the recent planning application. This includes some bizarrely optimistic assumptions. For example, every ship over 300m will choose to dock in Dun Laoghaire rather than at either of the new cruise piers in Dublin Port. It also predicts that a new cruise pier in Dun Laoghaire would attract an additional 247 vessels. Given that the season lasts at most for 180 days (April-September), attracting 247 additional vessels is far-fetched.
Dún Laoghaire Harbour company does not have the reserves for this project and would have to borrow most of the capital. In their business case, they talk about a ‘secured loan’, which makes one wonder which part of the Harbour they will use as security for this project. Is the pier to be mortgaged? While Dún Laoghaire Harbour is making a loss on its operation, Dublin Port made €26m profit in 2013 and is well able to afford such a large commercial, speculative investment – with or without state funds. DL Harbour had also hoped to get funding from the EU and the state, however these bodies may be unwilling to fund two port cruise ships docks so close to one another that would effectively be competing with each other.
A ship like Oasis of the Seas with 6,000 passengers and crew uses a huge quantity of diesel – up to 27,000 litres per hour. Even while idling in the port it needs to power its air conditioning and electrical systems. The ship is equivalent to a 100MW diesel power plant in the harbour and would damage local residential air quality.
The above map shows the area marked in red that would require dredging to cut a channel deep enough for a cruise ship to pass through. Hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of spoil would be removed from the sea floor – along with anything alive – and then dumped elsewhere at sea.
So what happens now?
You can make a submission to An Bórd Pleanála for a fee of €50.
The deadline for submissions is 27th August 2015.
You can read my submission to An Bord Pleanála here: