Cairnryan border control post: factsheet

A guide to explain the need for new border infrastructure for importing goods at Cairnryan ferry terminal.


Following the end of the EU Exit implementation period goods entering the UK from the EU are subject to the same border entry requirements and controls as goods entering from the rest of the world.

To allow these new border entry requirements and controls to be undertaken we are setting up a Border Control Post to service the ports at Cairnryan and will provide updates on progress here. The development of a Border Control Post in Southwest Scotland is a direct consequence of Brexit.

The Border Control Post will ensure continuity by helping trade to continue to flow when transitional border arrangements end in the second half of 2021.  Without this, certain goods such as animals, plants, and food, which currently use the ferry routes from the Republic of Ireland entering Great Britain at Cairnryan will be forced to re-route through other Irish Sea ports.

Importing goods to the UK: border checks

Scottish Ministers and Food Standards Scotland are responsible for the designation of Border Control Posts for checks on animals, plants, plant products, wood and wood products, product of animal origin (including fishery products) and high risk foods not of animal origin in Scotland. Enforcement is delivered through inspection facilities located at Border Control Posts.

Changes required at Cairnryan

The ports at Cairnryan and Loch Ryan are part of an important trade route for Scotland. With 2.59 million tonnes of freight having entered the ports in 2019, equating to approximately 400,000 freight movements. The Northern Ireland Protocol and UK Command Paper provide for unfettered access for Northern Ireland goods to the rest of the UK market, however the route does also transport a small but significant proportion of goods arriving from the EU.

The two ferry terminals at Cairnryan (the Port of Cairnryan and Loch Ryan Port) in Dumfries and Galloway do not have the enough space within their boundaries to build the infrastructure and facilities that are required.  When this happens, and in line with the UK Border Operating Model, the government must provide facilities at an inland site.  This inland site should be as close to the port as possible and some of the factors that need to be considered in selecting a site are detailed below.

The Border Control Post process

A Border Control Post is much more than a warehouse facility. It will be a facility for completing the physical checks needed on goods arriving in Cairnryan that have come from the Republic of Ireland and travelled through Northern Ireland.  This will ensure  products coming into the country are not a risk to public, animal and plant health. 

  • checks will be completed for animals, fish, plants, food and animal feed.  Not every good that enters the Port is checked, the type of goods that are being brought in, and where they have come from will determine if they need to be checked
  • it must meet the needs of animal, public and plant health measures, enforcement and containment measures, and be suitable to accept a wide range of goods from the full range of commercial vehicles (HGVs, vans, curtain sided trailers, animal trailers etc.)
  • it requires facilities for live animals, to allow secure unloading and animal handling and welfare, kenneling etc for checks with suitable, ventilation and temperature control
  • it also requires temperature-controlled inspection areas and stores for goods which might need to be detained if more checks are needed
  • there will also be offices and welfare facilities for staff who will manage the site and look after security, as well as space for the inspectors who will complete the checks

In practice, the checks involve commercial vehicles just off the ferries, being unloaded, the cargo inspected, and then reloaded for their onward journeys.

Work is continuing to determine the exact shape and size of facilities required.

Choosing a suitable site

Careful consideration will be given to the suitability of potential sites. 

The design and operation of a Border Control Post must comply with the Official Control Regulations which govern the manner in which checks must be completed on goods coming in to the UK. 

In addition, access to site, hours of operation, the need for services, environmental impact, drainage, waste, noise, lighting etc will also be important to consider. 

Site selection must also be considered alongside other local economic development activities within the area. We are working closely with Dumfries & Galloway Council representatives and South of Scotland Enterprise to understand the wider context of development in the area.

The planning process – Special Development Order

We laid a Special Development Order in Parliament on 24 February. A Special Development Order is a Scottish Statutory Instrument (SSI), also known as subordinate or secondary legislation, through which Scottish Ministers can effectively grant planning permission. 

When it comes into force (expected to be 25 March 2021), the Special Development Order will establish the principle of planning permission for a Border Control Post within an area of search around the Cairnryan/Loch Ryan ports, subject to conditions and limitations.

Once an appropriate site has been identified for the Border Control Post, site-specific approval will need to be obtained from Scottish Ministers separately before construction of any Border Control Post can get underway.

The procedures for seeking this site-specific approval are set out in the Special Development Order – including the parties that must be consulted and the information that must be submitted.

These include owners and occupiers adjacent to the proposed development site (once identified) and on access routes to the site, Dumfries and Galloway Council, the relevant community council(s) and statutory environmental bodies (NatureScot, Scottish Environmental Protection Agency and Historic Environment Scotland).

Using the Special Development Order is a contingency measure to ensure that the project can proceed at pace and save time in the planning process should this become a critical factor in delivering the project on an accelerated timescale.

However, our preference would be to go down a local planning route, and we will do that if we can. Either way, we will include a period of consultation with the local community when we have a design and preferred location.

We would propose to work with Dumfries and Galloway Council to enable any consent granted through Special Development Order, and in particular any conditions attached, to be as consistent as possible with the approach the Council usually takes with planning applications.

Further information

Trade through Cairnryan is subject to arrangements governing the movement of goods between Northern Ireland and Great Britain as part of the UK’s commitments to the Northern Ireland Protocol and to ensuring unfettered access for Northern Ireland goods to the rest of the UK. 

In light of enduring uncertainty over the long term regime for unfettered access that will replace existing interim arrangements, which are a matter for the UK Government, the Scottish Government has paused the detailed design and construction of the Cairnryan Border Control Post until such a time as there is greater certainty over the scope and scale of facility required. Other preparatory work continues.

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